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How to Spot Decisions in the Wild?

A decision is a commitment to a course of action. There is no way to see commitment, which is a problem if you want to spot decisions. Instead, you can see actions people take, and infer from that what they may have committed to – note that you are inferring what they may think or the attitude they may have – you cannot be certain this is true. 

As a result, and to make sure people act in accordance to commitments, there are records of decisions: executed agreements being a typical example, but also minutes of meetings, as well as plans, and other means of describing what people said they would do in the future.

If there are no records of decisions for something that was done in a firm, the simplest way to identify them is to ask the following:

  1. Who executed these actions?
  2. Do they have authority to do other actions instead, in the same situation?
  3. Who provided guidance on actions to take?
  4. What resources were used in these actions?
  5. Who provided the resources?
  6. Do these actions need to be done again?

If actions need to be performed again, and the intent is to change how decisions leading to them are governed, then two things need to be done:

  • The process that the actions are part of needs to be understood. What happens before actions? What triggers action? What information is used to perform actions? What are the steps after actions are taken? This helps understand desirable outcomes that actions need to lead to.
  • The purpose of actions needs to be known. How are outcomes of these actions evaluated? What outcomes of actions are desirable, and when are they undesirable? 
  • The information used to make a decision needs to be understood. 

Another way to recognize decisions can be used when you know some actions should have been taken, but they were delayed, or did not happen at all.  Causes can be the absence of something, such as resources or information. If so, then there are likely decisions that need to be made for resources or information to be released. 

In a summary, don’t assume commitment, look for records of decisions. When there are none, finding decisions involves understanding what happens before and after actions that the unrecorded decision led to, and then creating records of actions so as to explore why actions were taken, and by who.

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