Akhil's Blog Thoughts, Ideas, Essays & Views

Decentralized Decision Making

This is a post for helping in decision making


As the organization scales & in general also, the biggest challenge is that of decentralized decision making, these are some thoughts on how to enable this. It can also encourage deeper participation, experimentation, innovation and keeping the team driven.


The biggest challenge in the growing organization is around decision making, how to enable decentralization of decision making. When the organization is small, context is limited and most of the time centralized decision is what works well and not much alignment needed, sometimes the divergent views are not present while other times time is limited.

But as the things scale, context increases & decision making becomes more complex as well as nuanced. Teams need a framework which can enable them to take decisions without being too dependent on the leadership or experts.


Transitioning from How to What to Why or Doing to Knowing to Understanding becomes a stepping stone in moving from centralized decision making to decentralized decision making allowing people to choose what based on why and how based on what. The why (understanding) inspires & motivates the what while the what (knowledge) guides & aligns the how (doing).

The difficulty comes as there is no standard way to define these and even though the idea of moving from how to what to why seems good on paper but operationalizing it is not easy. Below is the framework to define & evolve the How to What to Why over time.


Core flows in working through anything can be done at three levels - how, what & why. The decision making is also required at each level & the most important thing for decisions in the fast changing world is the flexibility & agility to change the decision in response to new information or dynamic circumstances, for this we need to move to higher order thinking by pushing the decision to the next level. Basically when the focus is shifted to “what”, “how” becomes flexible & open-ended, similarly shifting focus to “why” makes the “what” flexible.

How / Doing / (Solutioning + Execution + Operation)

This is the implementation or in general terms tactical level which covers end to end roadmap to get somewhere by doing. It involves problem solving which itself can be divided into 3 phases - solutioning (problem definition -> exploring approaches -> finalizing solution), execution (planning, implementing & delivery), operations (production support, maintenance & evolution). This is the most important level to bring anything to life, but this level is a lot more focused on doing & lacks seeing the bigger picture of whether something is relevant for a larger goal or not.

The decisions here tend to be much more tactical in nature as getting something done is more important than to introspect/retrospect/prospect on whether it is good in the long term or not, whether it moves us towards the larger goal or not. Also, this level is more input or effort oriented instead of outcome oriented which means focus will be to think of how to do something rather than what to do, which also makes it less future proof as even if the result or outcome is not getting achieved, the decision need not be changed.

What / Knowing / (Success Metrics + Objective + Key Results)

Defining what has a lot to do with knowing deeply about the problem which is critical to define the success metrics for any solution. Once the success metrics is in place, what needs to be done becomes clear but the objective along with key results quantifying & slicing the what based on time (different quarters) & space (various teams). Decisions to do “what” are completely focused on outcome & will help in making the “how” flexible as it doesn’t matter which solution brings the outcome as far as it is achieved.

Why / Understanding / (WorldView + Hypothesis + Experiment)

Why is the highest level in the framework with focus on the reason, intention & rationale behind doing something. This is the level where civilisational & cultural lens matters, based on the environment & upbringing of the person, team & organization, the worldview will be formed which will then drive the hypothesis & experiments to make decisions based on the “why”.

  • WorldView - This is generally not discussed in detail and also lot of times abstract & not defined concretely as its subconsciously built in form of learnings from environment.
  • Hypothesis & Experiments - The hypothesis helps in making some prediction based on the world view & doing experiments to evolve the hypothesis.

General Concepts Around Decisioning

Problem vs Solution Focus

The problem & solution focus many times becomes important to be flexible towards solutions and not become rigid with a solution. It will also enable us to move from deterministic thinking to hypothesis thinking (where solution is seeked using hypothesis + experiment).

Deterministic vs Probabilistic (Hypothesis) Thinking

The hypothesis approach towards defining problem & solution is by default adaptive while a more deterministic approach might be appropriate for situations where being right is critical (even if it means to delay decision & wait for sufficient information). Probabilistic thinking enables incremental decision making by refining & evolving the hypothesis with more experiments (gathering relevant information).

Assumption Blinds vs Hypothesis Guides

Assumption is basically an implicit unknown & unproven point taken as truth while hypothesis makes that unknown explicit which is important to understand the gaps that can be there in the decision being made due to imperfect knowledge & understanding of the world around us. Sometimes facing ignorance explicitly is a lot better than implicitly claiming knowledge, which is probably the reason for many decisions being incorrect & that coming as surprise too.

Progress vs Perfection (Incremental Thinking)

In most of the decisioning cases, progressive decisions are better than aiming for perfect decisions, incremental thinking helps in evolving decisions which is more future proof.

Acknowledging Ignorance vs Claiming Knowledge

Focusing on ignorance & acknowledging it will result in seeking more knowledge & understanding of the world around us needed to make better decisions while claiming knowledge when its not there, will only result in decisions with of lot of faulty assumptions that can not only make the decision wrong but also result in incorrect learnings from those decisions.

Journey vs Destination vs Intention

The decisioning framework of how -> what -> why is also closely related to the thought process of moving from journey (process of getting somewhere) -> destination (knowing somewhere to go) -> intention (reason to be thinking of a destination). Generally people who understand intention will not be fixated on a destination and definitely will not be bothered to take a journey to any destination based on the larger intention.

Making Right Decision vs Making Decision Right

Most of the time the focus is on making the right decision which pushes us to think a lot, gather as much information as possible, create mental models & decisioning frameworks. But we need to give a lot more importance on how to make the decision right once that decision is made as it’s not always possible to see the correctness of a decision in the short run & many times as it takes a long time to see the truth of the decision. The approach to decision making should involve a good amount of effort & thinking on both aspects - what will be the right decision & what will it take to make the decision right.

Will be writing another post soon to look at some of the examples for using this framework & the learnings from that, it may not be the best framework but can help in steering to the shore.