# Why I Write Decision Records

Multiple decisions graphic

I write decision records for four reasons:

  1. Writing is thinking
  2. I am the product of my decisions
  3. Recording decisions equals knowledge sharing
  4. “There are no solutions, only trade-offs"

# Writing is Thinking

Writing organizes my thoughts.

...when you connect your ideas into a written piece, you give voice and direction to something that otherwise just rattles around in the form of entrenched habits and beliefs...[^1]

According to Scott H. Young, writing is not just about putting thoughts in my journal so I can bask in the warm light of nostalgia when I stumble upon it in my garage years later. "Writing doesn’t record your thoughts, it is your thinking".[^2]

It's no surprise that Amazon requires employees to write six-page memos instead of creating PowerPoint presentations. This is because long form writing requires heightened thought and mental processing.

Writing memos forces his (Jeff Bezos) team to think through their ideas in high-resolution detail. Instead of wasting time with impromptu brainstorming sessions, writing memos ensures that group discussion is based on the critical review of the relevant ideas, not on hypotheticals.[^3]

# I am the Product of My Decisions

In most organizations today, your product is decisions. By and large, your success will be the sum of the decisions you make over your career. The problem is it’s not easy to get better at making decisions.[^4]

But most decision making in the workplace is haphazard—following a trial-and-error approach. Far too little data is gathered. And that lack of data means you cannot analyze your previous decisions.[^5]

If this is true, why not have a robust and well tested process to make decisions? Why leave it up to chance? Why sit around making decisions on a whim hoping to get lucky?

I don’t want to follow this approach. I want my product (me) to be the result of good decision making.

Most organizations don’t use a consistent process or framework to make important decisions. Yet we know that the process by which you come to a decision is the most important thing. It’s not about more information. Process matters more than the analysis. We also know that when you don’t use a consistent process you make it hard to improve.[^6]

By writing down your decisions, you are gathering data that you can use to analyze your decision making and the decisions themselves. That data can then be used to improve your process—thereby improving your future decisions.

A decision journal helps you collect accurate and honest feedback on what you were thinking at the time you made the decision. This feedback helps you see when you were stupid and lucky as well as when you were smart and unlucky. Finally, you can get the feedback you need to make better decisions.[^7]

# Recording Decisions Equals Knowledge Sharing

When you write down your decisions, you create shareable knowledge that can benefit others. And knowledge sharing has huge consequences.

...firms with a high-trust environment, where employees can collaboratively and transparently share knowledge, gain stock returns two to three times higher than the industry average and have 50% lower turnover rates than competitors. An ineffective knowledge sharing culture, on the other hand, can cost large U.S. firms up to $47 million in lost productivity annually.[^8]

Knowledge silos mean that your decision is isolated—cut off from outside feedback. By creating an ADR, you help break down harmful silos and turn the decision into sharable knowledge.

Knowledge sharing graphic

An example of knowledge sharing in software engineering is the code review.[^9] Writing an ADR and submitting it for review reaps the following rewards:

  1. The code review submitter must share knowledge in order to gain the code reviewer's approval—the reviewer may also share knowledge to bolster and improve the ADR
  2. Once the ADR is improved, it becomes an artifact—sharable across the organization

Both the process by which you write ADR and the ADR itself is knowledge sharing.

# “There are no solutions, only trade-offs"

When making decisions, we naturally pick ones that we like and understand ("intuitively favor").[^10] Worse yet, we can easily be lead to believe that our decision will completely solve the problem.

However, there is no perfect decision—“there are no solutions, only trade-offs".[^11] All decisions have advantages and trade-offs.

Writing ADR can help you avoid Pollyannish because you must spell the advantages and trade-offs. And even if you make a bad decision, writing an ADR will help you and others understand why in hindsight.


# References

[^1]: Sally Kerrigan, Writing Is Thinking (opens new window), A List Apart
[^2]: Scott Young, How to Think Better (opens new window)
[^3]: Ben Bashaw, How Jeff Bezos Turned Narrative into Amazon's Competitive Advantage (opens new window), Slab
[^4]: Creating a Decision Journal: Template And Example Included (opens new window), Farnam Street
[^5]: Morgan D. Jones, The Thinker’s Toolkit, 14 Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving, 9
[^6]: Your Product is Decisions (opens new window), Farnam Street
[^7]: Creating a Decision Journal: Template And Example Included (opens new window), Farnam Street
[^8]: Zhou (Joe) Jiang, Why Withholding Information at Work Won’t Give You an Advantage (opens new window), Harvard Business Review
[^9]: Titus Winters, Tom Manshreck, Hyrum Wright, Software Engineering at Google, 175
[^10]: Morgan D. Jones, The Thinker’s Toolkit, 14 Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving, 11 [^11]: Larry J. Prather AND Dan Delich, In flood resilience debate, there are no solutions — only tradeoffs (opens new window), The Hill