How to Use a Project Decision Log
What is a decision log?
A decision log template in project management is the document you use to fill in all the decisions made relating to your project.
Decisions are taken in all kinds of settings: meetings, on email, when you bump into someone in the corridor… From experience I know that it’s a) hard to remember what decision you took, and b) difficult to find information hidden in meeting minutes to remind yourself of why that decision was taken.
It’s also human nature to think more about the things that stop you from making decisions than decisions you’ve actually made.
The decision log forms part of your project comms records. It keeps a trail of what conversations happened, so it’s partly follow up from comms activity and partly a specific comms record in its own right.
This document sorts out a whole lot of project communication problems. Once you’ve started using it you won’t look back, promise!
What goes into a decision log?
A decision log should include information related to what decisions were made. Typically you’d want to record:
Note down the decision was made. This is normally going to be the date of the meeting where the decision took place because most decisions get made in meetings.
The people who agreed to the decision
Write down the names of the people who were part of the decision-making team.
That’s going to be you, your project sponsor, and any other subject matter experts who participated in the agreement. This is helpful in case they “forget” later on that they were in the room and party to the discussion.
The actual decision
Yes, you should write down the decision that was made! This is the important bit.
A project decision log is to fill in only decisions made relevant to the project work, so if the conversation means you end up making a choice about something that isn’t technically project-related, then it should get recorded somewhere else.
Having said that, the decision template is yours to use. I wouldn’t use it for recording non-project decisions and project agreements in one file, but you can use it how you wish!
I also include a note about where I can find supporting information relating to the decision. For example, meeting minutes, or the transcript file of a meeting that covers why we took the decision that we did.
Your supporting information could be slides, a proposal document, a reference to the risk log or issue log, or change analysis, or anything else that backs up why you agreed on that particular thing at that particular time.
And, of course, you can include anything else that you like that helps you record and remember (and communicate to people who have forgotten), so add extra columns or notes as you see fit.
The one I use (which you can get here) is an Excel spreadsheet, so you can make changes to align it to the rest of your project documentation, or copy and paste the table to make a Word decision log template of your own if you prefer to have things in a .docx format.
How to use the decision log
Each time a decision is made, record it in the log. I also give my decisions a reference number so we can refer to them more easily in the future.
The key thing about a decision log is not that you write in it… it’s that you call it up later when the decision is being questioned. The usefulness of the template is felt when there is an issue or a challenge. Then you can call up the decision log and remind everyone why you’ve taken that course of action.
This is particularly helpful when you have stakeholders who aren’t good at remembering that they said something, or why they said something.
You can, of course, reverse a decision. Once it’s documented, you can still change your mind. However, let’s do that in a controlled and measured way, thinking about why the agreement was made in the first place and what you now need to do differently if the agreement is being changed.
Then you simply update the decision log — keep a note of the original decision, and record the new one along with the reasons why the project changed direction.
Download a decision log template in Excel
The decision log template is included in my project workbook, which is a comprehensive day-to-day set of tracking files for your project. It also includes an action log, risk log, issue log, change log, stakeholder contacts list, basic Gantt chart, and more.
Read next: How to make better decisions, as well as the process guide for better decision-making.
It would also be great for recording decisions for charity and community projects.
Whether you’re making decisions as a group or trying to remember decisions you took alone, this is a great decision-making tool.
Remember, templates are just that: add sections, delete sections – do what you want with it!
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