How to make decisions with a lack of information?


Sometimes decisions are hard to make because of a lack of information or a crystal ball. The advice I've heard is that the important thing is to make a decision at all. The worse someone can do is to be paralyzed with indecision. If a decision is a mistake, just back up and fix it.

However, there are decisions with wide-reaching consequences, and are either undoable, or painful or time consuming to go back on. What does one do then?

The only solution I've come up with is to find other ways to contain the effects of your decision. Are there others?

Project Management Decision

asked Jan 19 '10 at 10:39
113 points

5 Answers


Do you have a specific situation in mind?

These are questions I ask myself when faced with making a decision. These include:

  • Is there an unmovable deadline to make a decision? Or can a deadline be moved if required?
  • Are there other business forces requiring a decision in a general timeframe? Lost opportunity?
  • What are the implications of making the "wrong" decision?
  • What are the implications of making no decision - going beyond either the hard deadline or general timeframe required?
  • What else can you do to gather more information to help make a decision?

For me, answering those questions would help determine the best course of action. Perhaps it's just my general nature but I agree with your point and cringe when I hear "just put it out there - just launch - just decide." Sometimes that's right, sometimes it's not. I don't believe it's an absolute either way, all depends on the circumstances.

Best success,

answered Jan 19 '10 at 11:02
4,214 points
  • +1 for assessing the downside of a "wrong" decision and for trying to gather more data. – Dane 14 years ago


In the past, I've worked with people who seemed, with little effort, to be able to make those types of decisions based on little information. What did they have in common? Experience.

"We tried that once, and it didn't work then," they might say, if asked. This argument is both the cause and solution to lots of problems. With experience, you eventually get a gut feeling of the direction to go.

For now, though, you'll just have to muddle through!

answered Jan 19 '10 at 13:05
Steve Hanov
596 points


However, there are decisions with wide-reaching consequences, and are either undoable, or painful or time consuming to go back on. What does one do then?

You spend as much time as you can to get as much information as possible before making your decision with your best guesses.

Sometimes you will hit it right on, other times you can modify with little disruption and there will be times when you are just dead wrong and need to scrap everything and start all over. When there is no previous track record for what you are doing so much is pure trial and error.

As you experience having to do complete do overs, hopefully, not more than a couple of times, you get better at knowing sooner when to change direction and cut your losses. And because now there is a track record of what you are doing you have better information to make better decisions.

But if you start in another new industry, you start all over again. But what you bring with you is the experience of knowing when decisions are critical and far reaching and you are better at changing direction quickly to minimize the impact of a wrong decision.

Consciously making no decision is fine. Indecision is bad because as time passes options and choices get eliminated and you are left with no choices.

answered Jan 21 '10 at 20:33
Starr Ed
948 points


Limit the scope of what you have to make decisions about and develop in incremental steps.

answered Jan 21 '10 at 20:35
Thom Pete
1,296 points


Knowing nothing about the decision(s) you are trying to make, here's an alternative perspective...

Sometimes making no decision is an acceptable approach, especially when you have insufficient information to make the right one at this time. We are conditioned to believe that it's wrong to procrastinate - grown, educated men and women should be able to make a decision for goodness sake - but sometimes the best thing is to wait. I learned this from Ricardo Semler - he talks about his firm's approach (and a whole bunch of other things) in this MIT video .

(Afraid the video's 48 mins long, but you can skip the first 4:20 of intro if you like and the last 10 mins of Q&A).

answered Jan 20 '10 at 04:33
Steve Wilkinson
2,744 points

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