Decision making modes

Once you’ve mastered the basics of information sharing and feedback gathering, you can use what you’ve learned to make decisions. P2 is great for transparent decision making, but how can we do it effectively? 

P2 is particularly suited to the advice process, similar in many ways to the Nemawashi process, and there are a couple of models that can help you advance your P2 decision-making skills.

Spot decision making

Some decisions can be resolved within a single discussion thread, following an approach similar to the one used for feedback gathering. The difference is that after the discussion, and after evaluating all the contributions, one person will make the decision and communicate it.

The decision maker will write a new post in which they detail the background information necessary to understand the variables that contribute to the discussion. This is often an explanation of the problem, some considerations, and likely links to external resources, previous discussions, and P2 posts that provide more context. This kind of post works better if it ends with the specific question that needs an answer.

Once the post is published, the discussion will evolve into a thread of comments. People will reply, first to the post, then to each other, bouncing ideas, providing constructive criticism, and identifying where the agreement can be. 

After a given amount of time, which can depend on many factors, the decision maker will analyze and evaluate the discussion and write a final comment stating the answer to the question. Sometimes they might also update the original post, so the answer is easy to find at the top.

For example, let’s imagine that Alice’s team has presented three possible marketing campaign ideas, and Alice needs to decide which one campaign will move forward. She’s responsible for this decision, yet also knows that Anne from the Business division and Abigail from the Growth team both need to be on board with the decision. Alice then writes a new P2 post, briefly describing the three possibilities, listing pros and cons, and linking to discussions on how these three came to be. She also adds some considerations about the marketing strategy, and @mentions both Anne and Abigail. They both provide their own perspectives in the comments, discussing some trade-offs to be made. Since this P2 exchange is all public, others are able to weigh in even though they haven’t been @mentioned.  So Audrey and Amelia, who worked on the three proposals, join the discussion and are able to clarify some of the points made, adding their perspectives as well. This exchange goes on for a couple of days, until all those involved reach  a general consensus. Alice then reviews the discussion,  writes a final comment stating which of the three ideas has been chosen, and summarizes the why — so it’s easy to understand if someone searches for and revisits this decision later.

Iterative decision making 

Some decisions are more complex and require a longer time to  refine. While the spot decision making process described above relies on a single post and discussion thread, the approach for iterative decision making is spread over multiple posts and discussions.

In this approach, the decision maker writes a new post, exactly as before. However, instead of the discussion closing with a final decision, a new post is written — either after a period of time or enough ideas generated — to reset and realign the discussion. This series of posts may keep going for days, until there isn’t any more discussion, or time runs out. When that happens, the decision maker writes a new post, stating the decision and summarizing how the team got there. 

At Automattic, we label these iterations with a lowercase “i” and a number, to identify the progression of discussions. So if we were discussing the best way to cook tofu, our first discussion would be called “Cooking Tofu i1,” followed by “Cooking Tofu i2,” then “Cooking Tofu i3,” and so on.

As this process continues over days and weeks, it’s very well suited for some types of work, like polishing a presentation, defining a technical architecture, iterating a design, or reviewing a strategy for the year. In larger teams it also ensures that people have the time and space  to think and add their expertise.

For example, let’s imagine that Brian needs to prepare  a very important talk to promote the company. It’s the first presentation of its kind, and the event is high-profile, so the stakes are high. Brian writes an “Important Presentation i1” post, providing information about the event and linking to his presentation — made with his favorite tool and exported to PDF — so everyone can review it. He also @mentions his business partner Bruno, as well as the sales person that connected the company to the event, Basil. He posts on the P2 of the company marketing team, where he can get the feedback from all the marketing experts. Comments start flowing in, clarifications are made, and after a couple of days Brian thinks he has enough material to do a second version, so he writes a new post, “Important Presentation i2,” where he links a new PDF that integrates all the feedback from i1. A new discussion unfolds, but it appears that his updated presentation is harder to understand and has lost the smooth flow of the original one. Basil decides then to @mention Beckett, who is a consultant expert in public speaking and provides solid advice on how to improve the presentation. Brian, armed with this new feedback, writes a new post, “Important Presentation i3.” The feedback now is minor — a good sign — and everything is solid. Brian does the final retouches and posts “Important Presentation i4,” attaching the final PDF that will be used at the event.

The transparency in this method of decision making has two main advantages. The first is that everyone can see the discussion happening, and even if they aren’t directly involved in the project, they are aware of it, and can even provide feedback if they have something valuable to add. 

The second is that the decision is in the open, so it’s possible to go back and search for it in the future, and learn how it was made. This is an incredibly powerful tool to ensure that every decision is well grounded, and people can understand why things are done in a certain way.

If you are suffering from meetings fatigue — too many calls, too many meetings — you’ll find this method even more powerful and freeing: once your team learns that decisions can be made asynchronously and openly, it drastically reduces the need for meetings and calls.

Another benefit is that this process is intrinsically more equal. It allows for all types of communicators to participate: it’s easier for people to contribute without feeling silenced by the loudest person in the room, or feeling pressured to reply.

This approach to decision making allows for more reflection. In a meeting, everyone is time-constrained, but in an asynchronous discussion, you can take an hour to make sure you understand the problem clearly before adding your perspective. The quality of decisions will improve.

One objection we often hear is that “text can be misunderstood.”  If a discussion cannot be resolved via text, you can always  jump on a quick call — meetings aren’t forbidden! Ultimately, clear written communication, whether on P2 or otherwise, is essential in a team. If your message is written well, everyone can align quickly.

Communication is oxygen.