How do businesses keep track of the rationale for past decisions, and/or the status quo?

When I took over an managerial/administrative role recently, I received a good orientation to most aspects of the job, but of course not everything was covered. For instance, various projects contribute to our indirect costs at different levels. I would like to review that, and understand the rationale for the differing rates (particularly because some project managers are unhappy about it). When I asked one project leader how the figures were determined, he suggested (I believe seriously) that I read the minutes from various meetings to find out the reasons. While that is in principle possible, it seems like a weird way to store this information. It seems like having to learn the rules of chess by learning the history of the development of the rules of chess.

Is there a standard way to record the rationale for business decisions generally? Would there just be a prose document describing why things are as they are? (Is there a name for that?)

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    Do you think that having a "standard" way of recording anything will lead to innovation? – Ed Heal Jan 2 '17 at 17:16
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    There is no standard way to record the rationale for business decisions generally, other than meeting minutes. But now that you are management, you can record your decisions any way you like. – WorkerDrone Jan 2 '17 at 17:27
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    Every business gets to choose how it records its management's decisions. How you feel about reading the minutes of the various meetings is irrelevant - That's the way it was done. Are you asking us how to travel back in time and change the past? – Vietnhi Phuvan Jan 2 '17 at 19:05

Is there a standard way to record the rationale for business decisions generally?

I've worked a long time, and I've never seen a "standard" way to record business decisions.

I have seen "project books" that capture a lot of this sort of information, but they were different in each company that employed them. Some companies included the agenda and minutes of every meeting, along with planned and actual schedules, milestones, costs, etc, etc.

I've seen Committees responsible for oversight of all projects in a company keep pretty good notes of things like go/no-go decisions through all the milestone "gates" they had as part of their project planning and delivery process.

I've also seen Board meetings that kept details notes, managed by a Secretary.

But I haven't seen anything I'd call a "standard".

You might be better served talking to folks high up the ladder enough, and with a long enough tenure to know how the past decisions that interest you were made. And then you can propose your own "company standard" way of recording the decisions going forward.


There is rarely a business-wide answer, since "status quo" is defined in so many places and at so many levels, and since it often isn't considered worth recording unless someone is challenging it.

Some companies maintain a "manager's manual" either in hardcopy or online, but that generally addresses only issues specific to first-aid mangers.

Some companies maintain a history file of Corporate Directives issued by board-level folks. IBM actually used to publish a paperback book of the first 50 years if these, for historical insight into how the company's culture had evolved over time.

But generally, the right answer is to find the management chain that owns the issue you want to know about and find someone therein who knows the answer.

And that's just for finding out about the policy itself. Unless the policy statement includes the rationale, the latter may not be captured. In fact, there are sometimes good legal reasons for not making all of that explicit.

If you're running a company and can mandate using a better tracking system, more power to you. If you aren't in a position to enforce it, it's likely to be hard to justify; people will generally feel that what they have is working well enough -- I.e., that the status quo of the status quo is sufficient.

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