On agile projects, making fast, smart, decisions is the key to removing roadblocks. As a ScrumMaster or Product Owner you can improve your team’s velocity by making and facilitating decisions. I’m going to give you a few tips to help you make the right decisions quickly.
Product owners don’t wait for decisions
Brian Valentine, the lead developer on Windows 2000, made a motto out of the phrase, “Decisions in 10 minutes or less, or the next one is free.” He wandered the halls and asked people, “What is a decision? It’s a tool to remove confusion! Are you confused? If so, then make the decision and let’s move on!”
This example has helped me whenever I’m tempted to put off a decision. I think to myself, Will taking more time on this get me to a better decision? Usually the answer is no and I make the decision right there.
Time-box or create forcing functions
I once knew a church leader who was starting a new church and flipped a coin to decide between two possible denominations for the church. When the coin declared the verdict, he knew the right decision to make: the opposite of the coin flip. When you force yourself to make a decision, it makes you think through the consequences. This can help you get to a final decision faster.
Make decisions stick
An agile principle on decision-making is to wait until the last responsible moment. But once you make a decision, it needs to stick. Miles Lewitt, VP at Intuit, has a rule (#8): “Once the decision is made, I may be wrong but I am not in doubt, unless there is significant new relevant information.” This helps decisions stick. Getting decisions made isn’t very helpful if they are constantly being revisited.
Be agile in your decision-making
You can put a lot of effort into making a decision. Consider the people involved and the importance of the decision when determining how much effort and rigor to put into getting to a decision. For important decisions, it’s worth getting to a win-win decision or synergy.
For decisions that aren’t worth that amount of effort, I like Steven Covey’s suggestion. Where are you on a scale of 1 to 10? If one person is a 9 and the other is a 3, you go the way of the person who’s a 9. This requires honestly assessing how strongly you feel about the issue.
Everyone does not have to agree
Another useful concept is that not everyone has to agree. When driving for a shared decision, access where you need people to be. A person can either strongly support, support, disagree but not block, or not support and block. For a particular decision, maybe all you need is that no one will block. For other decisions, you’ll need strong support or support only. Once the decision is made, see Rule #8.
Get commitment to the decision
Whether you use index cards, spreadsheets, Pivotal Tracker, or something else, put epics and stories in writing to aid the conversation. Make sure you have shared understanding and commitment to decisions. Naomi Fortner, a product manager for ProSeries, is good at this and taught me through example. A group I was in was ready to create some state tax calculations. In prioritizing which state to start with, we thought it would be great to do one that would also benefit another group. Naomi and I had a conversation and came to an agreement. Soon after that Naomi put it in writing, sent it to me, and made sure there was commitment. When I saw it clearly in writing I realized it was something I could not commit to. This drove us to pick another state that we could both commit to.
Types of decision-making
As a product owner you influence the amount of ceremony on your project. Keep the ceremony minimal for the situation. Here are some example decision-making models for your toolbox:
Decide – the person responsible for the decision just makes the decision with little or no input. They then announce the decision to those that need to know about it.
Gather input and decide – someone gathers information from other people and presents all the information to the person responsible for the decision, who then makes the decision.
Delegate with boundaries – the person responsible for the decision defines the decision to be made, clarifying boundaries and constraints, and the driver makes the decision.
Decision with multiple approvers – the driver facilitates getting information from the contributors on the options. The approvers get the shared vision, agree and commit to support the decision.
Understanding the environment and picking the right model along with using the right amount of effort will get to a decision that sticks faster than taking shortcuts.
Often the first place people look to improve velocity is the team. In my experience, the biggest lever you have for improving velocity is clearing roadblocks fast, with decisions.
What resonated with you from this article? What stories can you share about decision making? We’d love to hear from you. If you know someone who would find this article informative, please share! And follow me on Twitter or Product Management.