One-way vs Two-way door decisions

Trésor Bireke

Making decisions is part of everyday life. However, not all decisions are created equal. Some are easily reversible and should be made quickly with a bias toward actions, while others have a long-lasting effect or are irreversible; those require careful and deliberate planning before being made.

These types of decisions are what we call One-way vs Two-way door decisions; One-way door decisions are the big, hard-to-reverse while Two-way door decisions are the easier, more flexible.

This distinction was popularized by Jeff Bezos’ 1997 letter to shareholders, in which he explained how he approaches decisions and why it’s important to distinguish these two types.

Knowing which type of decision you're making can save you a lot of stress and resources and ultimately help avoid analysis paralysis

One-way door decision example

An organization deciding to change the tech stack for its core product is a critical decision because changing the tech stack later can be highly disruptive not only because the developer's productivity decreases due to the learning curve of the new tech stack but it will also increase the opportunity cost since time will be spent on rewriting existing features in the new tech stack rather than shipping new features.

Two-way door decision example

Choosing which collaboration tool (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams) to use. While important, this decision can be classified as reversible since switching to a different tool later is generally feasible with minimal disruption.

Factors Influencing the Level of Deliberation

Impact and Reach: Decisions that affect critical operations or require substantial investment require more thorough research and analysis compared to decisions with confined impact.

Cost of Change: If the cost (financial, time, resources) of reversing a decision is high, it falls into the One-way door category and needs careful planning. Decisions with a lower cost of change allow for greater flexibility and experimentation.

Time Sensitivity: Decisions that must be made quickly to capitalize on market opportunities or respond to competitive pressures may require a different approach. For Two-way door decisions, a "fail fast" mentality can be appropriate, whereas One-way door decisions still require deliberate planning.

Consultation and Expertise: Engaging with experts and consulting widely can help in making informed One-way door decisions. For Two-way door decisions, while expert advice can be beneficial, the cost and time implications of consulting widely may outweigh the benefits.

I hope this makes it easier next time when deciding whether to use Jira or Trello for managing your project :)