Decision churn

I’ve been helping people with decisions for over 20 years.  I’ve seen lots of bad decision-making habits; one of the most common and damaging is “Decision Churn”.

This problem is usually seen in group decision-making situations where a team leader (or someone who usurps that position by force of personality) makes a decision without adequate homework or buy-in from the rest of the team or the decision stakeholders.  The leader is usually well-intentioned; they think that by acting decisively they will save time and money.  They seldom record their rationale; the answer is obvious to them, so why bother.  They don’t document the full range of alternatives they considered or what killed off the ones they rejected.  They seldom think through the ripple effects that their decision will have on other decisions.  By short-changing the evaluation of alternatives, they don’t refine their understanding of the answer they are asking others to implement.  They often overlook significant risks that could doom their solution to failure.

These oversights, combined with human nature (when we feel bypassed), then trigger round after round of second-guessing.  Tempers escalate and little new light is shone upon the situation in each round (bad process begets worse process in the heat of battle).  Stakeholders reject the answer and tell the leader to go back to the drawing board.  In the end, more time and money is spent than if a well-framed decision was tackled by the team with an appropriate and agreed-to level of rigor.  There’s a hidden cost as well; every time this decision is churned other decisions (that depend on it) may be delayed or churned themselves.

To prevent decision churn:

  • Use a decision pattern so that each decision is well-framed (scope understood by all) from the start
  • Agree on the value of the decision and its “analysis budget” before you start.  See Value of a decision post.
  • Use a decision pattern so that the criteria to consider are visible, complete and appropriate
  • Get buy-in on these criteria (their limits and priorities) before proposing alternatives
  • Capture some evaluation rationale; why alternatives are judged as great or poor against each factor.
  • Document the final definition of the alternative that you commit to implement.
  • Ratify the decision as a team.  If objections still exist, capture them within the rationale data as “minority reports” or uncertainties
  • Capture the derived requirements that flow from this alternative and communicate them to the owners of other decisions that are affected.  Do this as soon as the decision is ratified so they can factor these requirements into their criteria.

You’ll be glad you did…

You can reduce decision churn by using the Decision Driven® Solutions Framework (DDSF) to collaboratively plan, analyze, capture and communicate your decisions. Get started with your free trial of DDSF by contacting the Decision Driven® Solutions team at or

About decisiondriven

Innovator in Decision Management, Systems Thinking and System Engineering methods and tools
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