Illustration by OXD supporting decision-making process. Blue background with a sign post with different arrows pointing different ways.

With great decisions comes great responsibility: The work of the Decider

Whether working in government or leading a Fortune 500 company, a clear process for decision-making is crucial. Wil Arndt, OXD's Creative Director, explores why decision-making in organizations is so hard and how clarity and structure can help teams make better, faster decisions.
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“Why the heck is it so difficult to make decisions around here?"

Have you ever felt like your company talks about making decisions more than they actually make them? This chronic indecision can stifle progress and cost organizations money, time, and opportunity. And it can quickly erode morale and culture. While everyone wants to improve their decision-making process, many overlook the hidden work that drives good outcomes. In my experience as a creative strategist and business leader, I've found that the best decisions don't happen solely within frameworks—it's the effort and clarity that truly matter.

Let's explore why so many teams struggle with decision-making and how a structured approach can transform how your organization operates. While these concepts apply to everyone, I'm directly addressing those with the power to influence decision-making processes.

It's not just you

If you asked a room full of professionals from different companies and organizations, “How many of you feel that your company has difficulty making timely decisions to the point that it impacts your ability to do your job effectively?” I would wager that 75% of the people in the room would raise their hands. (And the other 25% would be too apprehensive to admit it publicly.) In fact, I intend to ask this question at my next conference talk on decision-making to gauge the response. I suspect that almost all who raise their hands would believe their situation is unique and their challenges are exclusively symptomatic of their company's inherent dysfunction. Everyone thinks that every other organization has it all figured out except theirs, when it comes to decision-making.

Well, here's a bit of comforting news: your struggle is not unique. Far from it. Lots of companies and teams grapple with what I call Decision Dysfunction. They find themselves trapped in a maze of indecision, entangled in a myriad of reasons too complex to list here.

“Everyone thinks that every other organization has it all figured out except theirs, when it comes to decision-making.”

It's a pattern I've observed time and again. When conducting governance workshops with different business units or groups, I'm struck by the uncanny similarity of their expressed challenges around governance. It's almost tempting to copy and paste these challenges from one client organization to another. (But let me assure you, dear clients, I do not succumb to such temptations. Each of you is unique and special in your own right, and it would be a disservice to conflate your problems with others. But the repetition is real!)

Illustration by OXD of six people who speech bubbles relating to the decision-making process

Here are some of the things I hear, over and over, from teams and companies:

  • Overcrowded decision-making: “Too many cooks in the kitchen—everyone’s involved, and nothing gets decided!”
  • Lack of a clear process: “It’s like navigating without a map. Decision-making is chaotic and without a structured approach.”
  • Unclear authority: “It’s a game of ‘Who’s the Boss?’ Without clear leadership, we’re left in a state of paralysis.”
  • Hesitation to act: “Even when decisions could be made, they’re not. The authority exists, but the willingness to act doesn’t.”
  • Mismatched expertise: “We have people with the wrong skills making crucial calls.”
  • Conflicting priorities: “Sales wants it flashy, support wants it easy, and no one cares about the budget!”

Any of that sound familiar?

This is all usually followed by the cry, “We need a process!” as if some magic framework is going to solve the problem.

If a new decision-making process is what’s needed, which one is right?

Choosing the right decision-making process is a puzzle in itself. The landscape is crowded with frameworks and models, each claiming to be the key to unlocking effective governance and project management. Yet, the irony is thick: agreeing on which framework to adopt often becomes as complex as the decisions it aims to simplify. It's a classic catch-22—how do you pick a decision-making process when there's no clear authority to make that choice?

Among the myriad of tools at our disposal, RACI often comes up in discussions. It's a staple in the project management toolkit, delineating who is Responsible, Accountable (or sometimes Authorizing), Consulted, and Informed. While RACI lays a decent groundwork, my experience—and preference—leans towards the DICE framework by Clay Parker Jones. Why? For its razor-sharp clarity and nuanced understanding of roles. DICE cuts through ambiguity, offering a more refined approach to decision-making with its distinct roles:

  • Decides: The person or group with the final say.
  • Informed: Those who need to know the decision.
  • Consulted: Contributes expertise and offers critical input.
  • Executes: The person or team who makes the decision happen.

So, is DICE the answer? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not about the tool or the framework as much as it is about the role of the Decider. It’s about the work of decision-making. Ultimately, the best decision-making process to choose is the one you will actually use consistently and with dogged discipline.

Let’s dive into the heart of it—let’s talk about the work of the Decider.

The work of the Decider

People in charge—the company owners, department heads, the ones with that ‘Decider’ label—often hate the responsibility. (And with good reason, but more on that later). They’ll find all sorts of ways to delay a decision, asking for more research, more time… But when it comes down to explicit choices—this or that, A or B—they freeze.

Conversely, those without that official decision-making power often think they’d do it better. If only they were in charge, things would finally get done! They’d be decisive, clear, and things would move forward.

Here’s the thing reluctant Deciders understand (that the aspiring ones often don’t): If you’re the Decider, you own the outcome. You better be able to justify that choice—to your team, your bosses, shareholders... or at least to yourself.

This sounds obvious. But often it’s not.

Over three decades in business and design, I’ve worked with a wide range of clients across industries. Along the way, I learned something profound about being the one who makes the call.

Being the Decider isn’t a privilege. Deciding doesn’t mean who’s personal preference wins. It’s not about your gut feeling or who talks the loudest. It’s a heavy responsibility, and it’s fundamentally about process. It means systematically addressing these elements:

  • Understanding the organizational context: Grasping the bigger picture and how decisions align with broader goals.
  • Consulting experts: Listening to experts and those affected by the outcome.
  • Navigating constraints: Recognizing and managing the limitations and challenges inherent in any decision. Knowing what’s truly possible, what the limits are.
  • Process and accountability: Ensuring decisions are made through a thoughtful process, backed by solid reasoning and measurable outcomes.

That’s the work before the choice is even made!

“Deciding doesn’t mean who’s personal preference wins.”

That’s why I’m careful when I introduce tools like DICE to clients and teams. Being the Decider isn’t glamorous. The Decider isn’t just sitting back in their chair, smoking cigars and making snap decisions on things. They own the process, not just the final word. It means following a structure everyone agrees on, so you arrive at the best possible decision.

Let’s talk about what the work of deciding looks like.

The Decider is given the authority to make the decision

This is where things get real. The Decider isn’t just picked at random – they need the authority to make the call. That might come from the boss, or from the group deciding together. How that happens really depends on the company culture—some orgs are more consensus-driven, while others are more hierarchical. I do have a preference, but I will not impose that view on you, as it’s rarely of consequence to the decision-making process itself.

Now, does the Decider need to be the top expert? Sometimes yes, but not always. Expertise in a field doesn’t necessarily equate to decision-making prowess. I’ve seen this play out in various scenarios: from designers championing innovative but impractical designs to marketers pushing for campaigns that fizz with creativity but fizzle in return on investment (ROI). The real skill lies in balancing knowledge with the broader implications of a decision, ensuring it aligns with the organization’s business goals and values.

The Decider informs those who are to be Informed

This seems obvious, but it gets messed up all the time. The Informed are the ones impacted by the decision. This isn’t just about the courtesy of keeping them in the loop. It’s about providing context and preparing them for the upcoming changes. The Decider’s role extends beyond making decisions—it includes ensuring transparency and clarity, setting the stage for smooth implementation and adaptation.

The Decider consults the Consulted on the decision-to-be-made

The Consulted are people who have valuable knowledge, skills, or insight within the domain of the decision, or will be impacted by the decision once it’s made. Regardless of whether or not the Decider is a domain expert, these people should be experts. (A word of caution here: It’s in consultation where decisions-to-be-made often go to die, so be disciplined!)

Folks often assume that if they’re being consulted, they’re part of the decision itself. The Decider has to be super clear (in a super-nice and kindly-respectful way) about the fact that, while opinions are valued, they’re not making the final call. And yet what happens often in many organizations and teams—even when everyone knows the rules and roles—is that everyone talks about the decision so much and so often, that people genuinely forget who’s actually got the deciding power.

The Decider makes a decision and then the person—or, more likely, the team—who Executes the decision implements that decision

These people may or may not have been Consulted, though ideally they were. They may even be the Decider themselves. Sometimes, the Decider and Executor roles overlap, particularly for low-coordination and irreversible decisions where efficient action is key.

Is the Decider’s role over when the job is executed?

Nope! The decision gets made, the work gets done, but the Decider’s job isn't over yet. They’ve got to evaluate the results. Was it done well? Did it meet expectations? This is where accountability kicks in. In a design or creative services context, this is might be “the client”. In an in-house or product context, it might be the team lead or product owner.

Sometimes, that evaluation leads right back to another round of the whole process. More consultation, maybe even a new decision altogether.

“Word of caution: It’s in consultation where decisions-to-be-made often go to die.”

Think about that last big decision your team or organization grappled with. Who made the final call? Was everyone clear on their role, or did it get messy? Imagine if you’d had a structured process like DICE. Could it have gone smoother? Could the outcome have been even better?

So… is DICE the answer?

Honestly, maybe, maybe not. A lot of this stuff is common sense that teams often figure out as they go. Many teams already implement some form of structured decision-making, even if it’s not explicitly labeled as DICE or RACI. And there’s a world of tools out there, each with its nuances and complexities.

“Ultimately, the best decision-making process to choose is the one you will actually use consistently and with dogged discipline.”

A common critique is that frameworks like DICE seem too rigid, too boxed-in. But it’s not about the framework or the structure. It’s about clarity and everyone knowing their role. That’s where things break down in a lot of companies, even with good intentions. Clear roles and processes set the stage for adaptive, dynamic decision-making, enabling solutions that are both structured and fluid. The best decisions are made when people clearly understand their role in the decision-making process.

Whether it’s DICE or something else, a decision-making process is more than any flow chart or magic framework. It’s the work of developing a shared understanding of who and how and what the expected outcome is. Sometimes authority is given by consensus-driven permission, sometimes by decree. But in either case, being an effective Decider for any decision comes with a lot of work. The best decision-makers are those who help guide a team through everyone’s role in the decision, ensuring everyone is supported.

“The best decisions are made when people clearly understand their role in the decision-making process.”

Think you want to step up and be that person, to own those decisions? Then get ready for some work! Work to understand the bigger picture, talk to the right people, figure out what’s possible and what’s not, and then own the outcome, good or bad.

Will the real Decider please stand up?

Feeling inspired to try DICE, RACI, or something similar? Want to bring better structure to those endless debates? Before you do, there’s one crucial question: Do you have the authority to actually decide?

Here’s a shortcut to find out: Propose a clear approach, outline the process, and step up as the Decider. You’ll quickly find out if you’ve got that power or not. And even if you don’t, that starts an important conversation about how to improve decision-making within your team and organization.

Ready to boost your team's decision-making in digital transformation or design?

Let’s talk about bringing decision-making clarity to your teams.