On Making Fast Decisions

When building products, we usually need to make many decisions to create or unblock progress. Moreover, since speed is critical in shipping products out of the door, we need to make sure we get fast decisions.

“fast gets good before good gets fast”

Des Traynor, Scaling Your Startup S2 E10 (15:37)

The challenge, then, is how to balance between the quality of a decision and the speed in making it. In one of Jeff Bezos’ annual letters to shareholders, Bezos describes the difference between Type 1 (one way door) and Type 2 (two way door) decisions:

Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.

As organizations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions. The end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention. We’ll have to figure out how to fight that tendency.

https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1018724/000119312516530910/d168744dex991.htm

Following the above, we can think of two factors that can affect the time to make decision X: (1) identify and (2) decide.

  1. The first factor is how fast can we identify whether decision X is a Type 1 or Type 2 decision. In the context of building products, and as Bezos describes, many people have a tendency to default to Type 1. When a decision needs to be made, they treat it as Type 1, overthinking it, and taking way too much time to make a call. This is very problematic since we not only waste valuable time and energy on making the decision, but also delaying the team from moving forward.
  1. The second factor, once we identify whether decision X is a Type 1 or Type 2 decision, is how fast can we make the call. If we successfully identify that decision X is a Type 2 decision, then the decision should be made real quick. If it’s Type 1, then it should take time and that’s fine.

    In regards to Type 2, although Speed > Quality, we do want to make, on average, as many as good decision as possible, so the challenge here is to make a fast and good decision, not only a fast decision. Nevertheless, even if it’s not so good – the risk is very low or does not exist. This is why it’s a Type 2 decision.

Back to the first factor, I think this is where most of the time go to waste. How fast we can consciously identify which is which is key. It will save the unnecessary cycles when we assume, usually unconsciously, that decision X is a Type 1 decision while actually it’s Type 2.

When building products, considering dozen decisions per day (as least as PM), getting better at consciously identifying faster the type of decision at hand can help boost the number and speed of decisions we can make.