Becoming a Better Decision Maker as an Engineer

Learn the characteristics of good decision-makers and 4 tips and tricks to become an effective decision-maker in the face of adversity.

While we all make decisions in our personal and professional lives daily, engineers are trained to approach problem-solving and decision-making from a much more pragmatic, logical perspective. Engineers are faced with a plethora of tough decisions every day, so decision-making is a crucial skill for successful engineers. 

In this article, we’ll dive into what makes a good decision, the importance of decision-making in engineering, important characteristics that make a good decision-maker, and the steps you can take today to become a better decision-maker. 

What is a good decision?

A variety of factors come together to make a good decision. First, the decision must be made deliberately and methodically. You don’t want to make a decision on a whim, but you also don’t want to ponder the decision to the point of oblivion. Knowing when a decision needs to be made and considering all relevant factors before rendering the final decision will increase the chance of a positive outcome. 

A good decision maker will make a decision that is consistent with their personal and professional values and will also be able to easily explain their decision to their peers. The outcome of their decision will be considered in a way that positively impacts themselves as well as those around them. In addition, a good decision-maker will enter the decision-making process with an open mind and will have researched all alternatives while pondering any potential consequences. A good decision will only be rendered once all avenues have been explored.       

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Why are good engineer decision-makers important?  

The world of engineering changes at a rapid rate. On any given day, engineers are responsible for making a number of decisions. Whether it be moving a teammate to a new project or choosing to ship a product two weeks earlier than planned, engineers are always operating on their toes and need to be ready to pivot and make tough decisions at all times. 

Engineers who are good decision makers are much more efficient than their counterparts. Being able to move quickly and pivot accordingly is extremely important in engineering. Engineers who remain stagnant or fail to pivot in the face of adversity will fall behind. Innovating and problem-solving are both crucial pillars in engineering that would not be made possible without effective decision-making. 

Characteristics of good decision-makers 

1Knowing when a decision needs to be made

The worst decision is making no decision at all. Every good decision maker knows when they have to step in and make a decision; they also know when it’s time to lay low and hold off on making any rash decisions. Finding a solid middle ground and acting when appropriate is key. You don’t want to make a decision on a whim, and you also don’t want to spend hours on end being indecisive. 

2Knowing not all problems are equal

Not all problems are equal. A good decision-maker will be able to prioritize and tell the difference between a major decision that requires immediate attention and a decision that does not pose an immediate threat. Being able to tell the difference is key when it comes to remaining calm, cool, and collected. If you happen to be in the presence of someone who panics or throws everything to the wayside every time a problem arises, this is a good indication that they’re not a solid decision-maker. A good decision-maker will remain calm in the face of adversity while encouraging others to do the same.  

3Being able to accurately define a problem

If you don’t have an accurate perception of the problem at hand, you won’t be able to make an informed decision. A good decision-maker will be able to examine the current landscape so the best possible decision can be made. If the decision maker does not have an in-depth understanding of the problem at hand, they may not be able to make an informed decision, or even worse, they may not have the information they need to make a decision at all. 

4Knowing compromises will need to be made

Nothing comes without compromise, and this is especially true when it comes to making a tough decision. Excellent decision makers understand that compromises need to be made one way or the other.  To make a good decision, it’s imperative that each scenario be explored. Weighing the pros and cons of the decision will ensure all avenues have been explored before a final decision has been made. 

5Being able to gather information

As stated above, gathering any and all pertinent information is imperative before making a decision. A good decision maker will be able to gather all information pertaining to the decision—including identifying the problem, determining who is currently involved and who must be involved moving forward, and determining the North Star or the ultimate goal. 

6Knowing when action needs to be taken 

Something to consider when making a decision is that action needs to be taken for the action to be considered a decision. If action isn’t taken, the scenario would be classified as a non-decision rather than a decision. It’s also important to note that the decision-making process doesn’t end after the decision has been made; a good decision maker will instead follow the decision up with immediate action that aims to solve the problem at hand. Following up with immediate action demonstrates the decision maker’s willingness to see the problem through to a solution. 

Steps to take to become a better decision-maker

1Know the ‘why’

Making a decision can be stressful and even frustrating, so it’s important to do everything you can to put your mind at ease. Understanding the ‘why’ behind the decision you’re making will help you make the best decision you can so you can be reassured of your choice. Ultimately, you should always know what the end goal is before making your final decision. 

2Understand context and gather information

A good decision can’t be made without gathering all pertinent information. Taking the time to do your due diligence while educating yourself and understanding the context in which you’re making the decision will ensure you feel confident in your choice. Ultimately, you won’t want to make a decision until you’ve compared the strengths and weaknesses of each respective choice. 

3Initiate discussion 

Initiating a discussion around the decision at hand is a great way to gain additional perspectives. When making a decision, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your own. Being a good decision-maker doesn’t mean you have to make the decision on your own. Sometimes it means knowing when to look outside of your own expertise to make the best possible choice. It’s also important to remember to include all key stakeholders. If the decision impacts others within the organization, you may want to inform them of all choices or gather their opinions before rendering your final decision. 

4Create space for feedback 

Creating space for feedback is imperative, and even more so when it comes to decision-making. If you aren’t sure where to turn, remember that you always have colleagues, friends, or even industry acquaintances on whom you can lean. If you don’t have anyone in your immediate circle that you can turn to for advice or guidance, you may want to consider reaching out to one of your network connections. Creating a space for feedback means you’ll always have a source of guidance or expertise when you need it most. 

Pro tip: Fellow enables your team to share real-time feedback on meetings, projects, and performance.

Parting advice

Some decisions are simple and require little to no thought, while others can be very difficult or even all-consuming. Making the wrong decision may lead to a cascade of negative consequences, whereas the right one could make all the difference. Whether you work in engineering or not, becoming a good decision-maker will pay off in both your personal and professional life. Remember, making good decisions leads to better results!


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About the author

Hannah Ross

Hannah Ross is an experienced content creator and digital strategist with a demonstrated history of working with SaaS startups and technical founders to develop and manage scalable digital marketing campaigns. As a Social Media and Content Marketing Lead in the tech space, Hannah is incredibly passionate about solving complex marketing problems with innovative solutions.

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