April 22, 2020

Decision Making vs. Execution

I was recently listening to Shane Parrish describe the relationship between decision making and execution. He speaks briefly in this podcast about how the distance between decision making and outcomes put people in a position where they evaluate outcomes based on execution. In situations where there is minimal space between decision making and outcomes (in his example, putting your hand on a hot stove) it is more clear to us that our decisions directly relate to the outcome.

This bounced around in my head for a bit. It reminded me of past work I executed on, work that I knew to be executed at a high level, which led to poor outcomes. In retrospect, it is clear to me that the work was not responsible for the poor outcome, but it was strategically flawed from the start. Perhaps, those projects might have also suffered from sunk cost fallacies and flawed analysis at key milestones.

In some of those situations, time was wasted for weeks or even months trying to fix” execution in hopes it would shift the outcome. This was not going to happen as the execution wasn’t responsible for the negative outcome in the first place.

All of these thoughts were thoughts I had had before, but after sitting with these ideas for a bit, I started to think about how we can prevent these types of problems in future projects. Two ideas came to mind with a similar theme: closing the gap between decision making and execution.

  1. Time

Limit the amount of time between decision making and execution. Working in a more iterative and hypothesis-driven fashion will allow you the opportunity to make more decisions and understand the impact of those decisions more quickly.

  1. Distance

Limit the distance between those who make decisions and those who execute. Empower teams to make their own decisions and execute those decisions accordingly.

These sound like simple practices, but I have been in a few organizations that have achieved this type of work style. There are a lot of complex factors that can inhibit this style of work: org size, org structure, skill levels, etc. But if we start building teams and organizations with this in mind, we might build organizations that make better decisions.

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