Making Decisions on a Small Team

Almost daily teams make decisions based on a variety of different inputs and personalities.  A particular difficulty is when you as a developer/manager are in need of a consensus decision from two different parties who often disagree.  The disagreement can be based upon differing incentives, or even personality conflicts- this method has worked well for me in either case.

Discovery – Getting the inputs from each party

Go and talk to each party individually- on the phone or in-person is best.  The conversational aspect is important as people will often allow you to see more of what they need via verbal communication- rather than writing something down that is set in stone.  I find it’s best to listen at this point- if a solution is proposed at this point keep your ears open to see if it is viable.  However, if you are asked to make a decision before getting input from all your parties, deflect with something like- “That is definitely a possibility.” or agreeing “Yes, that is a problem we need to solve.”


Proposal – Coming up with a solution and getting buy-in

Once you have done your research about what each party needs it’s time to go back to the 10,000 ft view of the project.  What decision best servers the project and your clients?  Are the incentives of the parties you just spoke with aligned with that of the project?  Are there mutually beneficial arrangements?  If there aren’t be prepared to explain the nature of the decision to the party who may voice concern or object to the decision.

After you have a viable solution it’s time to meet with each person again individually.  At this point if you’re sure they won’t have a problem with the solution, e-mail is okay.  Something along the lines “based upon your input I recommend the following… etc…”  If you know a party is going to disagree with the proposed solution, go talk to them again personally and try to come to a consensus.


Decision- Documenting and distributing the decision

After you have communicated the solution/decision to both parties and gotten acceptance- it’s time to make sure that it is documented.  This is where e-mail is most appropriate and it also helps if you’ve gotten verbal agreement from each party.  Then you can deliver a statement like this- “After speaking with both (or all) of you, it seems we’re in consensus that the following action should be taken…”  The decision is made, and if anyone backs out they’ll at least have to be reasonable in trying to find consensus again.


Where this type of communication is helpful:

  • Teams that are unfamiliar with each other
  • Teams with members who often disagree
  • Teams who are unable to make decisions by meeting

This type of communication is less helpful when:

  • Team members are familiar with each other and often agree
  • Decisions are not well defined
  • Team members are not available for verbal communication



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