distributed decision-making

People in organizations make decisions all the time. This is sometimes a time-consuming or unsatisfying experience. We want to empower employees to make better decisions faster. Some organizations use a technique called the Advice Process. Here’s a summary of how it works. 

when you identify a problem
When you see a problem, you can do (at least) three things: 

  1. Solve the problem yourself 
  2. Identify a person who could better solve that problem 
  3. Log the problem for others to review 

solve the problem yourself
Before you can make a decision, you need to understand the problem. How would you describe the problem? Who does the problem affect? Who does it affect the most? What problems have we already solved that are like this problem? Who solved those problems? Ask yourself, “Am I the best person for this decision?” 

Once you describe the problem, you can then collect advice. Find time to talk about the problem with the people it affects. Use their experience and advice to inform your decision. Consult people who might also have experience you can use. Then, make the decision. Share your decision with everyone you consulted. Thank them for their input. Make yourself available for feedback. 

identify a person who could better solve that problem
If you see a problem but think someone else is better able to solve it, you might be a person affected by the decision. Explain the problem to them and ask for their help. “Hey, I see this opportunity. What do you think? Given your role should you initiate this?” Give advice based on your experience and perspective. Let them decide according to the framework above. If the person doesn’t have interest or capacity to do this, anyone can. If no one does, the issue is not important right now. Log the problem so you don’t forget it. 

log the problem for others to review
If this problem needs a decision but you don’t have time to make it, write it down! Post problems in a public space with your name and the date. If someone wants to take on that problem, they can write their name next to it. This person might make a decision or form a task force. Anyone can take on this problem if they follow this process. If no one does, the issue is not important right now. Keep the problem on the log so you don’t forget it. 

task forces: when the problem is too big
Some problems may need solving through a team discussion. Generally, the bigger the issue, the more people you need to consult. Complex problems may need several decisions. In this case, you can form a task force or workgroup using the guide above. Bring together the people affected by the problem. Also invite people with relevant experience. There is no leader in a task force, only a convener. 

Discuss the problem. Talk about potential solutions. Talk about who should make decisions. Talk about who can do what. Ask who else the decision-maker should consult. Ask what else the decision-maker needs to move forward. Decide if you need a second meeting. 

I adapted this material from Reinventing Organizations. There’s even more detail on the wiki.