Decisions, decisions

There are decisions to make almost everyday where I work. Software development is literally chock full of decisions. Who makes the decisions is most often is not the problem. Rather the lack of someone making a decision is most often the problem.

I work in a company that is pretty typical with corporate hierarchal authority. There are your C level people, VPs and all kinds of middle management. Mostly it makes sense who is who.

It’s only confusing however at the lower levels. The levels where there isn’t a hierarchy. In most cases the upper levels of authority like to empower the lower levels (they say they do at least). That word empowerment is funny. By definition it means to relinquish power to someone else. All well and good. But does that mean that every subordinate has authority? And what are the boundaries to that empowerment? When everyone has the power to make a decision, who gets the last one? There has to be a final decision right?

In software development some would call this “design by committee” and generally it’s with a bad connotation. The dislike for committees is likely due to the belief that there ought to be a final decision in software design. Even if that decision is temporary or up for change later, it’s kind of final and work can move forward. Otherwise if there isn’t a final decision work doesn’t progress. Instead it’s debated and deliberated ad nauseam.

There are good reasons to have committees. There are also very good reasons to debate decisions. Some decisions are long lasting and making the wrong call could effect a large number of people in a harmful way. These kinds of decisions need thorough analysis. But those kinds of decisions are few and far between. Really far between. If decisions are rated on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being “really impacting” and 1 being “harmless to all” I would guess that 90% of all decisions are below a 3. Committees should be for the 4 & 5 decisions. In all other cases there should be only one person making the decisions. Leave the debating to the important stuff. One person should make a call on the rest allowing everyone to move forward.

The trouble is when there isn’t a hierarchy at the levels where 90% of decisions exist. Those decisions are then left for the upper levels of authority to make. And then the volley starts. Upper levels say “go ahead with whatever you think best” and then lower levels say “we’ve come up with a bunch of options – which one do you want” and then back and forth. Empowerment is great, but it’s not always useful for a group or committee.

For me personally, it’s frustrating when groups don’t have a single lead, decision maker or tie-breaker. It’s really aggravating in some cases. It’s pretty often that I really want to make the call, and most often I do voice my opinion. Sometimes I get it right and others will follow. Sometimes I get it wrong and someone else gets it right. Generally I’m Ok with this (but often I think my decision is better for whatever ego driven reason). I’m sure many others feel this same way, it’s pretty natural I’d guess. And I’m sure there are others that don’t really care to make a decision, rather they’d prefer to be told. This is fine too, in fact it would argue my point that each level of organization ought to have one decision maker. Consider what would happen to a team that is full of people not interested in making a decision but have been empowered to do so?

Decision making occurs everyday. There ought to be someone designated to do just that at all levels of an organization. At least someone designated as a tie-breaker.



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