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How to Create a Decision Checklist

On Tuesday, I launched the Lean Decisions podcast with an interview of Noah Kagan from AppSumo.

In the interview, Noah talks about how decision checklists can help decisions be more consistent and produce better outcomes.

Today, you’ll learn how to create your own decision checklist.

What is a Decision Checklist?

A decision checklist is a series of questions that help you figure out what decision to make. Decision checklists can apply to all of your decisions, or only a subset.

A simple one-question checklist might be:

  1. Will this make me happier?

Using this in a Go/No-Go decision, a No should bias you toward the No-Go option, while a Yes should bias you toward the Go option.

Note that I said “bias”. Decision checklists serve as guidelines, not rules. Use them to remind you of factors to consider in your decision, not to make the decision for you.

A checklist for deciding whether to develop a new product might be:

  1. Does the new product target our existing customer base?
  2. Will the new product be profitable?
  3. Can we build the new product with our existing resources?
  4. Can we distribute the new product through our existing distribution channels?

The more questions that get answered No, the less likely the option is a good one.

Why Use Decision Checklists?

Decision checklists guide your decision process and help you:

  • Apply criteria consistently across decisions
  • Maintain alignment with your priorities
  • Eliminate options faster

In an organization, decision checklists communicate the priorities of the organization and increase the consistency of decisions made by different decision-makers within the organization.

Tips for Your Decision Checklist

A good decision checklist can be used quickly to eliminate options and highlight risks.

Use these guidelines for creating your decision checklist:

  • Set Your Priorities
    Ask yourself, “What are the top 3 things that matter?”. Then develop your questions around those.
  • Ask Yes/No Questions
    Create clear criteria for whether an option should be considered. If dealing with ranges, ask if the value is above a minimum acceptable value, e.g. Does the candidate have at least 3 years experience?
  • Keep It Short
    Aim for 3-7 questions. Long checklists can seem daunting and are more likely to have irrelevant questions. Force yourself to limit the number of questions as a way of focusing on what’s really important.
  • Mark Critical Questions 
    If a question must have a Yes for the option to be considered, mark it as required. Put these questions near the top of your list.
  • Put Stricter Questions First
    Reduce the number of questions that an option has to go through before being eliminated by putting the strictest questions first. If an option doesn’t satisfy this question, then the other questions don’t need to be asked.
  • Review Periodically
    Review your checklist periodically to ensure the questions remain relevant for your decisions. Then look for new questions you should be asking. Update your checklist as needed.

When to Use Your Decision Checklist

Use decision checklists when you:

  • Make a decision that affects future decisions
    Create a checklist to use for future decisions to stay aligned with your current decision.  For example, create checklists that ensure decisions are made consistent with the values you’ve decided to live your life by.
  • Make decisions repeatedly
    Use checklists to ensure consistency when you need to make decisions often. Aim for questions that improve your outcomes.
  • Delegate decisions
    Communicate the key criteria for decisions using a decision checklist.
  • Need to make decisions fast
    Minimize the time you spend evaluating options by eliminating them faster with checklists.

Further Reading

Check out these posts providing sample decision checklists you can use for various decisions:

What questions have you used to make decisions before? Let me know the decision checklists you’ve used in the comments below.

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