You make a lot of decisions throughout the day: what to wear to work. What to order for dinner at your favorite restaurant. What kind of haircut to ask for.

While some decisions are made in seconds, others are a little more important. These take time, include a long list of details, and need the entire team’s approval. When it comes to making these types of decisions, consider keeping a record of everything that was discussed in a decision log.

What is a decision log? 

As the name suggests, a decision log is quite literally a log of decisions that have been made during a discussion, conversation, or meeting. The goal of having this type of record is to make specific information available for team members who weren’t able to join the conversation. A decision log can provide quick and easy access to information and specific details about decisions made in the past if questions come up afterward.

In addition to the decision that was agreed upon by those in attendance, the log can also include details like alternatives that were considered, why the decision was made, and who was present for the decision. 

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When should you make a decision log? 

Decisions can make or break a project. Keeping an accurate record of meaningful conversations and critical details surrounding the decision can set everyone up for success and help to avoid any pitfalls along the way. Without a detailed project decision log, you’ll likely see project specifics start to fall through the cracks.

Not sure if you need a decision log this time? Here’s when it’s a non-negotiable document.

1 When the decision is a frequently debated topic

There are specific topics the team frequently debates or ones that often lead to a disagreement or two. It’s for these topics that a decision log is absolutely necessary. Once the decision is made and the team wants to move forward, there may be a time when the subject comes up again in conversation, causing more debates or disagreements. Having these types of conversations time and time again can lower team morale and cause unnecessary conflict.

When this is the case, the decision log can remind the entire team why they’ve moved forward with a particular solution, hopefully putting the topic to rest.

2 When stakeholders need to be informed

Some decisions may confuse stakeholders, especially when they weren’t part of the conversation or the decision-making meeting. A decision log can easily be communicated to stakeholders after the fact to inform them how the team will be moving forward with a specific project or initiative. If they still have questions or need additional information, the log will also mention with whom they can follow up.

3 When the decision has large impacts

When a decision dramatically impacts the direction of the team or organization, or the future work of a project, it needs to have a decision log. Decisions regarding hiring, the budget, or major events should all have a detailed decision log, as should ones that directly correlate to other projects being worked on by different teams or departments. When these teams need information, the log can be their guide. 

4 When there were multiple alternative decisions 

If the conversation led to multiple alternative decisions, but only one was agreed upon, make sure the decision made has a log to back it up. These alternatives can come in handy if the team needs to go in a different direction with very little notice. 

What should you include in a decision log?

A decision log should include specific details and various information related to the decision-making conversation. You can use any sort of decision log template that suits the team, as long as it includes the following information.

1 The final decision that was made

It should go without saying that yes, you should absolutely include the final decision that was made in the log—it’s the most important part! Here, keep a record of as many details as possible, since they can be helpful if certain information is forgotten at a later date or if anyone who wasn’t a part of the conversation has questions or concerns.

2 The date the decision was made

Next, note the exact date the decision was made. Typically, this is the date of the meeting where the conversion took place. This information can come in handy when looking back on the decision and when it happened in relation to other conversations or action items.

3 Why the decision was made 

Whether it be the needed timeline, the suspected budget, or the necessary resources for a project, there were specific reasons the team agreed on the decision. You can look back on this information if a key stakeholder or a manager in another department comes to you with questions surrounding the decision and why it ended up being the one with which the team moved forward. 

4 Who made the decision

There are only a few situations where you’re asked to name names–and this is one of them. A decision log should include the names of the people who were part of the decision-making team. This information may be useful if, down the line, someone tries to avoid blame by claiming they weren’t part of the conversation — the decision log will say otherwise.

5 Other alternatives to the decision that were considered 

You and other team members likely had a brainstorming session regarding the decision being made. Hopefully more than one idea was on the table originally, so be sure to record any other alternative ideas, solutions, or decisions that were considered. If something goes awry and the team needs to pivot fast, there’s a list of different solutions that may work in its place.

Decision log examples 

If you’re not quite sure what a decision log should look like or how it should be formatted, you can inspire yourself with these two examples:

Decision #1

In attendance: [Company Name] executive team, including:

  • [Name]
  • [Name]
  • [Name]
  • [Name]
  • [Name] joined via Zoom
  • [Name] was not in attendance due to maternity leave

As a team, we have agreed on and approved the following proposal for H2:
[Proposal details]
[Proposal budget]
[Proposal timeline]
[Resources needed to accomplish proposal]

This H2 proposal was approved by [CEO] of [Company X] on [date decision was approved], via email.

Decision #2

[date]

In attendance: [Company Name] marketing leadership team, including:

  • [Name]
  • [Name]
  • [Name]
  • [Name] joined via Google Teams
  • [Name] was not in attendance due to pre-approved vacation time

As a team, we have agreed upon and approved the following plan for Q2:

  • Hire 3 content marketers
  • Hire 1 new designer
  • Publish 15 new blogs to the website
  • Take the team out to dinner to celebrate big and small wins as a form of bonding

It was discussed but ultimately not decided upon to hire an editor during Q2. We will discuss this for Q3 at a later time. 

No decision is too small

When in doubt, the more information you have surrounding a key decision, the better. These records can help remind everyone of a discussion that occurred in a meeting months ago, ensure everyone is still on the same page, and help answer questions people who weren’t a part of the conversation may have. 

At the end of the day, it’s better to have a comprehensive decision log and not need it than not to have one and wish that you did. Get logging!