Doers Decide

A hat tip to Tyler Jennings for the title of this post. He and I were in a meeting some time ago, along with a lot of other interesting people from Groupon Engineering. We were sharing our thoughts on team leadership and the role of managers. There was talk about how decisions need to be made close to the work and how managers need to not just seek advice, but actually provide others the opportunity to make decisions.

"Doers Decide.", Tyler said, "That should be our mantra."

I agree it should.

The Decision Maker

I recently finished reading "The Decision Maker" by Dennis Bakke. It's the story of a company that is acquired by two experienced leaders who are first-time business owners. It covers the trials and tribulations they go through as they attempt to give people within the organization a sense of connection to their work and the company. They find that in moving decisions closer to the people most affected, the quality of the decisions improves, new opportunities are discovered, and people are happy to come to work every day. It's a parable, but it is based on the real-life experience of Dennis Bakke.

But... you probably shouldn't base a mantra or management strategy solely on the last book you read.

Move authority to the information

In "Turn the Ship Around", L. David Marquet tells an autobiographical account of his experience taking over a submarine command with insufficient time to prepare himself and a poorly rated crew. Not knowing enough about the inner workings of the sub or the capabilities of the crew, Marquet had to quickly figure out how to move from a standard command protocol to techniques that allowed the people doing the work to make decisions and communicate their intent. They communicated their intent, not to only their commander, but also to their peers in the room. The people closest to the data were able to raise concerns. No concerns raised - proceed with your intended action.

Marquet discovered that in especially complicated or complex situations, this was a far superior approach to the old ways of conveying everything to the commander and awaiting orders.



The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom.
— Howard Behar

I did a search for the phrase "Doers Decide", wondering if it had come from somewhere else in our industry. It sounded familiar to me, but many notions I find instant agreement with also feel comfortable or familiar. I found a paper written on agile by Martin Fowler in 2000 and later edited in April 2003 to include a section on Difficulty of Measurement where he references a book by Robert Austin written in 1996, entitled, "Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations". I read Martin's post some years ago. And I have Austin's book, also having read it quite some time ago. In Fowler's summary, he states, "Austin's conclusion is that you have to choose between measurement-base management and delegatory management (where the doers decide how to do the work)." I don't honestly recall if Austin used those words or not.

I still attribute the mantra to Tyler Jennings. I may have heard it before, but I didn't truly hear it until Tyler said it.