Forget RACI, SPADE will pay off in spades

Another good read from the folks at First Round Review covering Gokul Rajarams decision making framework:

Square Defangs Difficult Decisions with this System — Here’s How

It’s a 5-part framework: Setting, People, Alternatives, Decide and Explain – or in short, SPADE


Defines the decision that needs to be made, using the standard 3-W’s:

  • What – articulates as precisely as possible what needs to be decided.
  • When – defines the timeline for making a decision. This cannot be a fake deadline, the timeline needs to be defensible.
  • Why –  goes one level deeper and makes the assumptions or beliefs that deemed the decision important explicit.


Defines the groups of people that should be involved in the decision making process. This actually happens before or in parallel to defining the setting. Here Rajaram diverges from the classical RACI by defining only three roles:

  • Responsible – this is the person making the decision and the one accountable for executing it.  The often-confusing ambiguity between the “responsible” person and “accountable” person in some interpretations of RACI is eliminated by merging the the roles, which also reduces the systematic disempowerment in situations when one is held accountable for executing on a decision made by someone else.
  • Approver – is the person with veto rights over the decision. The intent here is that this right will be used sparingly and be focused primarily on the quality of the decision making process rather than its outcome.
  • Consultants – are the people that should be providing both input and feedback on the decision.

I find the way the approver role has been defined pretty interesting. If done correctly, it should create a dynamic similar to the one between a developer and a tester rather than a more traditional escalation up the chain of command.

I also can’t stress enough the importance of being thoughtful and proactive in identifying consultants and soliciting their input and feedback. Giving people a voice is the best way to reduce objections and road blocks further down the road.


These are essentially the potential outcomes of the decision making process.

Alternatives should be feasible, diverse and comprehensive. Engaging the people identified as the consultants for the decision is the best way to identify the best potential alternatives.


Given the self-explanatory title, let’s focus on the actual steps:

  1. Gather the consultants in a room, present the best alternatives and have them provide feedback on them
  2. Solicit their confidential vote and reasoning for the alternative that each of them favors. Confidentiality can be removed if the level of trust is high enough, but it’s a powerful default, particularly around very contentious decisions
  3. Make the decision. Choose one of the alternatives and clearly formulate the reasoning for why you chose it. Note that making the decision does not require neither consensus nor a majority of the votes in favor of that alternative.


  1. Run the decision by the Approver
  2. Walk the consultants through the decision that you’ve made and the reasoning
  3. Ask each of them individually to make a public commitment to support the decision
  4. Summarize the SPADE of the decision into a 1-pager and share with the rest of the company

The “explain” part is where I’ve seen many decisions-makers cut corners and then pay a steep price later on when execution on the decision stretches out or even stalls.

Forget RACI, SPADE will pay off in spades

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