How to Start Using a Decision Journal on Your Team

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Slack is good for having conversations, but not for remembering decisions. Unfortunately, chat apps like slack make it feel like you’ve documented something when it’s just lost in the stream.

Writing things down brings clarity. Being able to reference them again in the future is a superpower.

Note: This is one reason I personally love using RoamResearch. I can write things down without worrying in the moment how I’m going to find them later. Using Roam was the first time I didn’t have to think about where to do something and I could focus completely on that thing.

How to make team decisions

The best teams are deliberate about decision making. They are aware when decisions are made and then know how to understand and take action on decisions.

One way to increase your team’s ability to make decisions is to use a decision journal.

A decision journal is a shared document where you keep track of decisions your team makes + data about those decisions.

The journal exists to help to groups:

  1. The team actively making a decision
  2. Your future selves (who need to remember what happened)

I’ve seen (and sadly presided over) many times when a decision was loosely agreed to, but then later it becomes obvious everyone had different ideas of what was actually decided. Writing something down for everyone to see as a commitment will take care of 95% of the “Oh, I didn’t realize that’s what we meant” issues.

So how do you start a decision journal?

  • Start a new document for “Team Decisions” (or use existing meeting documents).
  • Every time a decision is made, write down what was decided, some light context, and the date.
  • Remember that the purpose is to align everyone on the decision of the moment and help your future selves (and those not in the room) realize a decision was made.

Other suggestions:

  • Open the journal as a prompt when setting the agenda for the next meeting and even during the meeting as a 2-minute check-in to align.
  • I’m a huge fan of Dropbox Paper. It’s lightweight, so you don’t worry a ton about formatting. Also, when a change is made, everyone following the doc will get an email summary of the change. It’s easy to stay up to date with changes, even when you miss a meeting.
  • Identifying when something is decided is itself a valuable step

Potential prompts for your decision journal

“What did we decide?” is an obvious one. Here are other prompts to consider:

  • What options didn’t get chosen?
  • When are we going to revisit?
  • What would we want our future selves to remember?
  • What tradeoffs did we make? What debt did we just incur?
  • Were there any dissenters?
  • What predictions do you have about this decision
  • What data was used to make the decision?

The ability to recognize decisions and learn how to make better decisions is an important one. Being able to do this well on a team is a rare skill. Let’s make better decisions (and then keep track of them).

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