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Daniel Hulme
Daniel Hulme

What is: Decentralised decision making?

Posted on 3 June 2016

If there is no ‘boss’, who makes the decisions? All organisations need to make a series of decisions to achieve their vision; therefore decision making isn’t an event, it’s a process. To replace traditional hierarchical management structures, an effective decision making process needs to be implemented that captures the collective wisdom of many people in a way that gets things done.

The basics

Self organising workforces support the principle that the best decisions are made by the people closest to their application, and that these people arrive at decisions by the use of a rigorous consultation process. This process typically stipulates that anyone in the organisation can make any decision but first they must seek advice, opinions and information from everyone affected, as well as parties with expertise (internal and external) by conducting an appropriate consultation commensurate with the impact of that decision. It is possible that this process may also reveal to the consulting decision maker that they are not the appropriate person to make the particular decision.

Fig 1. Impact of decision vs. scope of consultation

What does it look like?

If a decision was modelled as an optimisation problem then it would be to maximise positive impact, whilst minimising risk, subject to ‘implication’, ‘time’ and ‘space’ constraints.

Consultation with the stakeholders of a decision is a very valuable process of sharing knowledge and information in a practical context. The ‘pitch’ and the ensuing discussion is a vibrant process of education for all that are involved. The exchange of ideas and feelings creates a sense of community and the seeking out advice from colleagues is an exercise in humility, with the consultee feeling valued.

“...if (you are) content to begin with doubts, (you shall) end in certainties.” ― Francis Bacon

Decision making for self organisers is not about achieving a consensus, it is about comprehensive due process. Ironically consensus can have the adverse effect of diminishing responsibility. The proposal can become diluted or altered to the point that no one feels responsible for the final decision and there is a lacklustre execution.

Cheat sheet

Advice Process Another term for a decision making or consultation process.
Decision Maker Also known as the DM. Is the person who will make the final call. The correct person will normally arise spontaneously from the practical context but for large decisions this person will be appointed by a team and asked to take on a consultation.
Consultation The process taken from begining to end. From defining the scope of the decision to ascertaining the correct forums and consultees to communicating the outcome.

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