Scaling orgs: Simple tools for Decisions, Risks and Dependency Management.

As we scale up, whether it is our team or services, we also have to adapt and tune our processes that have been working well for us. You see, what used to work well before, may not work anymore.

As organizations grow, situations with complex decision making with competing priorities arise. Risks need to be managed well such that their blast radius is minimum and stakeholder surprises are minimum. And dependencies typically increase. 

I wanted to reflect back and share some tools and processes in which I have learned and found value as I have grown my org. This article is dedicated to sharing simple, free tools to decision making, risk management and dependency tracking. I didn’t use any of this 3-4 years ago, but now they are effective tools in my tool kit as a large org lead, thanks to my leaders who have taught me these things.

I also mentor at PlatoHQ for almost a year now and I have found that effective decision making, risk & dependency management comes more often than I expected. So without more blabber, let’s get into it 🙂 

Decision Making:

As a leader, We participate in a lot of decision making activities. We may not be the decision maker, but we have to empower the people who have the most knowledge about the situation. It is important that we have alignment, documentation and a mindset to “disagree and commit” when a decision is made. One such process facilitates this well in my experience is the RAPID decision framework.

RAPID stands for

R:Recommend : Recommends what should be the decision, solicits input from folks tools; researches possible solution. Most of the work falls on individuals performing this role. 

A:Agree: Agrees or Disagrees to a decision, if disagreeing, promises disagree and commit. 

P:Perform: Individual or a Team that performs the activities necessary to execute the decision.

I: Input: Individuals or Teams that are solicited by the Recommender to make a recommendation.

D: Decide: Individual who reviews the recommendations, asks questions and then decides.

There are many brilliant articles about RAPID and I encourage you to search and read through it, my favorite ones are linked below.

After being part of many RAPID decision making process, here are some best practices

  • Limit the individuals in these roles to these MAX values.
    • R: TWO
    • A:THREE
    • D: ONE
  • Recommender is someone who has holistic information about the problem. They also have credibility with people in the RAPID, especially with D and A. This is where most of the work falls in the process. 
  • Recommendation is in a written form, explaining various options and their tradeoffs.
  • It’s best to have stakeholders in “Agree” roles. The mindset of disagree and commit is applied, even if the folks in the “Agree” role disagree with the decision. 
  • The deciding individual owns the final accountability of the decision. 
  • Always have a timeline for a decision.
  • Decision making meeting is held where everyone reviews the recommendation. This could be done asynchronously as well if the team is mature.
  • Once a decision is made, it is communicated to the performing team and documented. 

Here is a free template to get you started: RAPID Decision Template

The Heilmeier Catechism

This is my new favorite set of questions to ask before decision making. I learned about this recently from a senior engineering leader and now I use it for my own brainstorming. I also recommend my team to write this 2 pager doc when we have any new proposal. This could be used to make the decision itself or provide a proposal.

Official link is:

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success?

I think the above 8 questions are spot on, and if thought thoroughly, makes the process easy.

After doing several of these personally, what I have found is the key questions where I spend most time thinking are

  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?

They really force you to evaluate if the objective is worth the solution you are putting forward. I really recommend this exercise for any leader as a self brainstorming exercise. This also makes a great recommendation document for a RAPID.

Here is a free template to get you started: HC Decision/Proposal Template

Risk Management

Risk Management is another key aspect of any good leader. Any good leader will want to de-risk their team from catastrophic failures, while still pushing them out of their comfort zone from time to time. The major part of risk management is communicating the state of the risk. This risk management framework ROAM, taken from SAFe is simple and has helped me the most.

ROAM the risk, stands for

R: Resolved Risk: Risk is resolved and is no longer a risk.

O: Owned Risk: Risk is owned, and someone is working on it, and eventually it will land in other categories, such as resolved, accepted or mitigated.

A: Accepted Risk: Risk is accepted, meaning its not being solved for, and tradeoffs are accepted as is.

M: Mitigated Risk: Risk is mitigated, meaning we have a plan to tackle it.

Next time when you see risks popping, consider ROAMing them via this framework and see if it helps you manage them effectively.This process may be familiar to those who practice SAFe Agile, but this risk management portion applies broadly.

It is important to follow up and re-review with risks time to time, in all categories until they are fully resolved.

As said earlier, if you find this interesting, recommend you to browse various good articles about this over the internet. One is linked below

Dependency Management

Dependency management is also a key aspect on any well planned project. Complex project will have dependency and a good project plan will manage those well. Miss-managed dependencies become risks.

I have found that Grant charts are a simple and effective way to visualize dependencies and they are usually enough to identify dependencies that are actually risks or will be turning into risks soon.

Now, there are tools like airtable which allows you to do this well, but a simple spreadsheet can also get you going perfectly.

I hope you find these simple tools effective as you scale your org. I would also love to know if there are other techniques that you have implemented for decision making, risk & dependency management.

PS: Thank you to Ty Alexander, Binal Parikh for making this blog better 🙂