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The Key to Great Decision Making

The Key to Great Decision Making

At the heart of every biotech – actually, every start-up – is the need to take calculated business risks, and at the heart of prudent risk-taking is effective decision making. Unfortunately, few people have been trained on how to make good business decisions, so here is a list of a few important questions you should ask before you make any significant business decision.

Am I the right person to make this decision?

This is a great question to ask because it has been my experience that many people involve themselves in decisions that should be delegated or would be better made by someone else.

What is the real timeframe for this decision?

This is very straightforward: you want to use as much time as you have to make a decision – and not one minute longer. Figure out by when you really need to have a decision made, and set a date and time; then take your time and make the decision when appropriate.

Do I have all the information I need to make this decision?

Do not get caught in the trap of analysis paralysis, but do collect all of the information truly necessary to make a well-grounded decision.

Can I trust the quality of the information/data?

I sat in a strategic planning meeting for a major company several years ago and watched them make huge global decisions based on numbers they were estimating. It went something like this, “Paul, how you think we’ll do in the European market next year?” And Paul would say, “I don’t know Sam, I guess we’ll do about 35 to 50 million.” And then Sam would reply, “Great, let’s just call it 45 million – go ahead and put down the flip chart. Okay, Sue how you think we’ll do in the Canadian market next year?” And so it went with them throwing numbers up on the flipchart that would eventually be used to set the global strategic plan. If you’re going to use data to make a decision, make sure it’s accurate and reliable.

Do I have all of the right people involved in the decision?

This one is critical. You want to have everyone needed to make a fully informed decision, but not one person more than that. It is invariably the one person who doesn’t really need to be in on the decision that will drag the process down and destroy any hope of making a quality decision.

What is the ripple effect?

I think a lot of times people forget to think about: “Who else will be impacted by the decisions I make.” You might be surprised to realize that a decision that seems trivial to you might have a major impact on other people.

Can the decision be reversed or overturned in the future if necessary?

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If the answer is “no,” then you need to make sure to take your time and answer every single question listed above before you make an irreversible decision.

Once I have made the decision what are the steps necessary to implement it?

If you’re going to invest the time to make a high-quality decision, it is critical to also invest the time necessary to create an implementation plan for that decision.

Once the decision has been fully implemented, do I have a process in place to review the success/failure of the decision and how I might make future decisions differently based on the outcome?

Call it what you will: an after-action report, a postmortem, a postgame review…but one of the key ways that great decision makers become that way is because they take the time to review their past decisions and learn from them.

If you have a lot riding on the outcome, one of the tricks to making excellent decisions is to use a process like the one above to ensure you have thought things through carefully and are not just “going with your gut.”


John Spence is the author of “Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Action,” and has twice been recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders in America and one of the country’s leading small business influencers.

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