Tom Jepson Creative

Decide Fast and Move On

“Why it’s important to make good decisions quickly, avoid getting stuck in the details, and learn from your mistakes.”

‘Decide fast and move on’ is a mantra I bring to every project. It isn’t a mission statement as much as a directive for everyone to think on their feet and be ready to take action, quickly!

You might feel that it’s a cop-out or a shortcut to making any old decision just for the sake of getting work off your desk; this isn’t the case. Being ready to make swift decisions is a way to keep your projects moving forward, keep everyone on the same page, reduce ‘output debt’, and keep a laser focus on your project goals.

How do we set up for success in making these fast decisions? It isn’t hard to start and there are practical tools to help you when it feels like you’re getting nowhere.

Finding the right problem: build understanding with good questions

Being able to make a fast decision on its own is easy: left or right; black or white; true or false. Making a good fast decision, however, takes a little more legwork.

Learning how to ask a ‘good question’ is the first step to being able to move forward at pace. By asking questions that surface the right information from the right people you will be equipped to make decisions that address real needs and contribute to succeeding with your goal.

Tip: Ask ‘open questions’ - try starting with ‘how’ or ‘why’ - and prime the person you’re speaking with to give more than a ‘binary’ answer.

Don’t get hung up on the details (yet)

As tempting as it may be to iron out all of the quirks and bumps in the road before you ‘ready’ to show off your idea, you’ll be sabotaging any opportunity you have to move forward quickly with your project.

Working on every single edge case or fork in your logic diagram upfront might feel like very useful work to add value to a solution and - in some cases - it is. Be mindful however that with every extra layer of detail you have an extra layer of decisions to make.

Tip: As you make decisions and test them for validity, you’ll end up iterating on your ideas; building on what you had before, changing things, or starting over entirely! Keep a pool of ideas for the details you might have ‘missed’ and revisit them later when you know the core of your idea is on the right path.

Accept that the first idea probably isn’t right

Ouch! Did I say that you might have gotten it wrong? You bet! Nearly all of our first ideas - no matter how much research you’ve done - are assumptions. Until you’ve tested a concept with someone else it is entirely based on your thinking.

By acknowledging this and making decisions which allow you to move forward, you’ll very quickly get to a point where your ideas and solutions are much ‘less wrong’ than when you started.

Tip: Follow the guideline of ‘share early and often’. Decide on the idea you want to share, work out the best means to do so, and get it out there with other people. Having a clear goal for your ‘test’, too, is important; what do you really want to know when you’re sharing the idea?

Find the best way to work at pace

This isn’t always easy especially when you’re working with a lot of stakeholders or have a systemic culture of ‘moving at a glacial pace’. Even in these scenarios, there are tools you can use to help people see the whole picture and make the fast decisions you need to get the job done.

It’s important to acknowledge here that one size rarely fits all. Think about what you really want to achieve and look for a tool that’ll help you get there. Your context is everything.

Tip: There are some great workshop activities you can use to empower a team to make fast decisions. A ‘rapid prioritisation session’ (commonly known as a ‘Lightning Decision Jam’) can be a very effective way of identifying and prioritising challenges and a direction for possible solutions. Other tools like the Eisenhower Matrix (an impact/effort scale) can quickly highlight, too, a direction of travel.

Find the space to think, discuss, and reach agreement

Even when ‘going fast’ you need time to think. Jumping from meeting to meeting isn’t going to let anything sink in or develop in your subconscious. Say you have a good idea in a meeting; you could take it on face value and throw it to the wind, raw and unformed. Alternatively, you could sit on it for a while and let it percolate. Dwell on something different for a while and watch the sparks fly on that original idea.

This isn’t to say that when you come back to it it’ll be any more accurate - especially if it’s your first pass on a solution - but you’ll have given it some time to grow and form enough boundaries to be shared without it falling apart!

Having the time to ‘brew an idea’ also lets you have some space to carry on conversations; talking to people and having those extra insights and inputs add to whatever’s going on in your head without needing to hold yet-another-workshop or meeting to develop on the idea.

Tip: When people say ‘Sleep on it’ they really are on to something. Your subconscious brain will process thoughts and ideas without you knowing it, working in the background to form some of those innovative, ‘blue sky’ ideas. Give yourself time to succeed with an idea; think it, sleep on it, and revisit it later!

Keep everyone up to speed and in the loop

Bringing together all of the tactics for ‘deciding fast and moving on’ will help do the most important thing: keep everyone up to speed with what’s going on and in the loop when a decision has been made.

Having separate conversations and working on a ‘need to know’ basis can lead to fragmented teams, process slowdown (while people have to play catch-up), and diminished trust between team members. It can become almost impossible to move quickly if you’re constantly reiterating a point, going back and forth on previous conversations, and having to bring people up to speed.

Find ways to ensure your message is heard by everyone first time, that everyone has the opportunity to feed back, and that everyone knows what the next actions need to be.

Tip: Lightweight documentation stored in an easily-accessible central location can be a great way to keep everyone up to speed. Something like a Google Doc or Notion page can be just the right thing to help people collaborate quickly, wherever they are.

Long-form notes sent on emails are likely to end up buried in a sea of their mail content and go unread. Big documentation efforts will nearly always fall down, too, since maintenance is more of an overhead than actually making the decisions and creating the solution to be documented!

Next time you want to make headway on a project of any scale, find ways to decide fast and move on before you get buried in the details, circular conversations, and process paralysis. Be ready to be wrong (get comfortable being uncomfortable!) and learn with every step.