Keeping a decision log as an aid to learning

A decision log can be a useful tool in learning, and as part of a KM system

Dia 91: DecisionesMany projects and many non-project bodies maintain a decision log, to keep track of, and to publish, the major decisions which have been made. This allows you later to revisit the decisions, and understand the basis behind them, in the light of later knowledge. If you know why decisions were made, then you know whether and when to revisit them.

Some public bodies publish their decision logs, for example some of the UK police and crime commissioners have public decision logs.

But how helpful are these logs for learning purposes? A simple decision log will record which decisions were made, and by whom, but there is often no way to go back and understand why those decision were made.

The Washington DNR site has a good decision log template including a column for decision rationale and one for the alternatives considered, but even that one lacks the “assumptions” column, and often one of the major causes of learning is that our assumptions were incorrect.

In engineering, the Toyota A3 report acts as a decision log for product design, and is a simple and visual way to keep track of engineering decisions, recording

  • The problem
  • the details of the current situation
  • root cause analysis
  • the “target state” 
  • the alternative countermeasures to address root causes
  • the chosen implementation plan with accountable actions and costs
  •  a follow-up plan, including preparation of a follow-up report 

These reports are used to communicate decisions in review meetings to build a knowledge base about good practices in product development, and to develop a final Basis of Design document.

If a decision log is to be useful as a learning tool, then it needs to cover some of the same ground as the A3 report, and to record.

  • The problem that needed to be addressed (in therms of the difference between the current reality and the desired state)
  • An analysis of the problem
  • The alternative options that were rejected
  • The decision that was made
  • Why that decision was made, i.e. the deciding factors that resulted in choosing that particular option
  • The assumptions behind the decision.

So on a crucial project, consider the use of a decision log, but make sure you record the assumptions and rationale behind each of those decisions.

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