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Best of PMTimes: The Why What and When of a Decision Log

Can you relate to that project that feels like it has been dragging on a little too long?


Moreover, your team is sitting in a conference room drowsy from preparing the final touches when one perky creative soul, who by the way missed the first four months of meetings (thus why they are perky), pops up with a question ‘Why are we doing it this way? We should look at a different option?’

Once the collective groans subside, everyone starts in on a chatter contemplating a different option. “Wait,” you think, “it has already been hashed out!” Quick, where are your notes? Where is that email talking about a different option? Was it in the meeting minutes somewhere? “When was that again? February?” This is all too familiar. You can’t quickly find the results, and you desperately want to stop all of the cross-conversation and new found excitement that has roused up the room. Then you sit back and remember, “Ah yes, I have a decision log!” You swiftly scan it, find the related item and pound your gavel on the table to gain everyone’s attention. It will all be fine, we are on the right track, and we don’t need to spend another moment of discussion because it was already agreed which would be the best action. Phew!


Utilizing a Decision Log, which is a list of critical decisions agreed upon throughout the project, has not yet leaped into mainstream project management practice, although it has started to gain traction being viewed as beneficial for recording impactful decisions and serving as a central repository for those decisions.

Why Do It?

The concept is a simple one. Once a discussion begins regarding a project, decisions are being made with some decisions essential for the direction of the project. Documenting those in a central location can be of value throughout the project as a quick reference and communication tool to assure everyone is aware of the direction.

Decisions may not always be agreed upon by the team members. Rather than opening a discussion for debate each time the topic arises, it is better to resort to the documented decision and move on from the topic.


Additionally, these decisions may be made in a forum that does not involve all team members, and they may be hidden in meeting minutes or informal email messages. Providing a standard method to document and communicate decisions can assure everyone is aware, avoid lack of clarification, and can be used as a method to focus team members when debate arises.

Decisions can be revisited when necessary, and may even be changed when new information presents to the project. Team members who raise valid points that counter a decision should be heard and their opinion valued as it may offer a better course of action.


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What Information to Include?

A decision log is a beneficial communication tool to assure all stakeholders are apprised of how a decision was reached, what other options were considered, and who is accountable for the decision. It provides guidance to the team members and can eliminate potential confusion. The format you use may be a spreadsheet, automated log, or another method that suits your environment.

The primary information to capture includes What is the decision, When was it made, Why it was made, and Who made it. Other information may be captured as well and may vary based on the project needs.


When to Include a Decision?

When to include an item in the log involves striking a balance between what is valuable to have recorded versus what is too detailed, and will take thought. As well as considering the overall audience, team members and project dynamics also consider these things:

  • Topics that are frequently debated or where there is often disagreement.
  • Decisions that may be confusing or not clear to all stakeholders.
  • Those made that impact the direction or future work of the project.
  • When alternatives exist, but only one must be selected.
  • Decisions made by leaders, or others outside of the project team, which will impact the work of those team members.
  • Those that impact what or how a deliverable will be achieved where it may be different than some stakeholders expect.
  • Items that may not seem significant but can cause issues if not understood.

As a project manager, you must judge what your stakeholders will view as too much detail. You also must consider not eliminating items that you think are valuable to minimize detail.


There you have it!

No one wants more documentation. That goes for the individual who must create and maintain it as well as the recipients who do not want yet another attachment to read. The value of the log is for the project manager to have a centralized location to capture items that may cause debate or slow progress or for those who are included to search for information on the project materials instead of hunting down the project manager. This can turn into a time-saver and worth a try it on your next endeavor!


Published on January 23, 2017.