Mike asks:

...I imagine that there isn’t much of a hierarchy [at 37signals]. But in situations where you arrive at an stalemate, and a decision needs to be made, who makes the call? I am referring more to design decisions rather than business decisions.

We’re rarely find ourselves in a design decision stalemate. A stalemate means someone has to ask permission to do something and the other party says no. A battle ensues with neither side backing down.

Getting real breaks stalemates

We don’t get into those battles. If someone feels like a change should be made they usually either just 1. make it, or 2. mock it up to show it off before making it. Once it’s real we can all make a more informed decision about it. At this point a stalemate is the least common outcome. Stalemates are often the byproduct of abstraction or illusions of misunderstanding. Getting real breaks stalemates before they even happen.

Diffuse through responsibility

However, when we do run into two strong opposing viewpoints on a particular design decision, we usually diffuse the tension by making the person championing the progressive idea responsible for any issues related to their decision.

For example, if Ryan wants it this way, and I want it that way, I might acquiesce say “Ok let’s go with your solution, but you’re responsible for any support emails, confusion, or questions that are directly related to your implementation.” Ryan can accept that responsibility and move forward, or he may say “It’s not worth it right now, let’s just go with your solution.” Or maybe we’ll both agree to not do anything right now. That’s a reasonable decision too.

Decisions are temporary

Since we believe decisions are temporary, we’re open to revisiting, repairing, or replacing a decision if it doesn’t pan out. No one at 37signals is personally invested in a bad decision. If it’s bad, we know it’s bad and we do what we can to make it better. Instead of throwing good money after bad, we get rid of the rot and try something else. You can usually tell pretty quickly if something isn’t going to work out. We don’t pretend we can get it right all the time.

So if you hit an impasse, ask one party to step up and take ownership of the implementation, support, and customer feedback loop. They may feel it’s worth it and move forward. Or they may have second thoughts. Either way, it’s a great way to move past a stalemate if that’s where you find yourselves.

Keep the questions coming

Got a question for us? Please send it along to svn [at] 37signals dot com and use the subject “Ask 37signals”. Thanks again!