The Five Steps of CRISP Decision-Making


Chris, the leader of the planning committee for the next District Managers Meeting, sent an email to the company’s leadership team describing two possible venues. Emails flew around as people weighed in.  Someone wrote that it looked like the decision was in favor of the first venue. More emails then flew around expressing concern about its distance from the airport. Chris then proposed a third venue. There was one response saying, “Looking forward to hearing what you find out.” And interestingly, the flood of emails ceased.

Chris doesn’t realize it, but this is just the calm before the storm. It’s not clear which decisions are to be made by the planning committee and which by the leadership team. Busy leaders will soon get annoyed if they feel their time is being wasted, and his team will get annoyed if Chris doesn’t give them an opportunity to weigh in.

Life will be easier for everyone if they use the CRISP Decision-Making model.

I was introduced to this easy five-step process by Steve Piersanti, President of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, who has been using this model successfully for many years. When I asked for permission to share it in my blog, Steve replied, “Berrett-Koehler is very open source and would be happy if everyone copied every good thing we are doing.” They certainly are doing good work, and I am pleased to be able to share their model. I took the liberty of added the acronym CRISP in order to make it easier to remember.

Use this model to make crisp decisions when you have a question that requires involvement of others, when you are proposing a change, leading a project or when you want to make something new happen.

C  R  I  S  P

C = Clarity 

Step 1  Clearly describe the decision required.

    • Anyone affected by the decision should have an opportunity to have input into the wording of the decision.
    • If there is uncertainty or disagreement about how to describe the decision, the leader of the area affected by the decision will describe it.
R = Responsibility  

Step 2  – Determine who will be responsible to “steward” the decision through the CRISP decision-making process.

    • Usually the decision steward should be the person who is leading the project or has proposed the decision.
    • If there is uncertainty about who it should be, the leader of the area affected by the decision will appoint the steward.

I = Involvement

Step 3  – Determine who should be involved in the decision.

    • The decision steward should take the lead in deciding who to involve in the decision, based on the guidelines of involving those who:
      • Are substantially affected by the decision.
      • Have a desire to be involved.
      • Represent the “whole system” relating to the particular issue.
    • The decision steward will often need to ask individuals or groups if they want to be involved.  Sometimes, for practical reasons, representatives of a group rather than the whole group will be involved.
    • Any staff members can involve themselves or others in a decision by requesting that they be involved.
S = Specify the level

Step 4 – Specify their level of involvement in the decision.

    • For each person or group involved in the decision, the decision steward will propose their level of involvement.
    • The leader of the area affected by the decision will make the final determination about the levels of involvement.
    • The decision steward ensures that everyone knows their level of involvement. (As a practical matter, most decisions will be at the Inform or Consult level of involvement).

The 4 levels of involvement are:

Inform   You are kept informed in a timely way regarding what is going on but not asked to give input into the decision.

Consult    You are consulted before the decision is made to get your input, so that you feel that you’ve been heard even if the decision goes against your advice.

Consent You see sufficient reasonableness and thoughtfulness in the decision to “live with it,” even though they might decide differently if they were making the decision alone.

Consensus  Consensus has been reached when every person involved at this level can say: “I believe that this is the best decision we can arrive at for the organization at this time and I will support its implementation.”

P = Publicize

Step 5 – Publicize the decision.

    • The decision steward facilitates the decision-making process.
    • Once a decision has been made, the decision steward will communicate the decision in a timely manner to all who have been involved.
    • The leader of the area affected by the decision is responsible for making sure that the decision steward has followed the five steps.

22 comments to The Five Steps of CRISP Decision-Making

  • Great steps Jesse. I have also found it vital for the group to agree on Rules of Engagement for their decision making programs. This is from my tracking of behavioral research and facilitating teams to co-create messaging and/or for designing Ambassador Corps for their organizations.

    Also, it is often beneficial for each participant to say how working on that decision will benefit them in some way…Often the team will find the share a sweet spot of mutual interest.

    • Thanks so much for your helpful comments and suggestions, Kare. I agree with you. This model assumes the team leader will determine who will be involved and in what way in decisions. There are times it is more appropriate for the team to determine this as a group. Being clear about how you will decide is a key part of the decision-making process. It’s also important to be clear on what’s required to make a decision and what’s required for successful implementation. This process culls out the decision-making process itself. Once a decision is made to proceed, it is most helpful to create a Team Charter.

  • Jesse:
    Thanks for the post. I have used a similar process in the past. I learned that you must be very clear about the involvement of the members. Often they will assume that this is “decision by committee” when you are really seeking input or feedback and intend to make the final decision. Decision by committee can be very tricky- people don’t like to lose if the decision goes against them. I have found that it is better to have one person or a VERY select group make the final decision with input from others. Less hard feelings! Excellent post!

    • It does seem that most of us, when asked for input, assume we have a say in the decision. It can turn into a very long discussion that is not necessarily productive. And I, too, have seen a lot of hard feelings result. It is so important at the outset to determine who needs to be involved and to make sure they are clear what their level of involvement will be. Thanks for adding to the conversation with your own experience, Joe.

  • The difference between collaboration and chaos is often in the process. CRISP is a great model to focus participation and reach a productive decision.

    • Well said, Allen! This is the real value of this model.
      Berrett-Koehler Publishers distributed copies of this process to all employees, and they use it for all major decisions. I’m hoping other companies will see the value and use it as well.

  • Deepak Dhungel

    Beautifully summarized tips for the decision makers. In an organization where there are lots of critical decisions made with lots of other routine tasks, luxury of taking enough time for the required process and consultation can be challenging. However, there is always scope for crispy and smarter way of doing it. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Deepak. As you point out, this model is meant for decisions that have a significant impact on others and the organization. One of my mentors, Don Carew, used to say, “Take care of the beginning and the end will take care of itself.”

  • Marye Gail Harrison

    Hi Jesse,
    I really like these 5 steps. I have sent it on to two people I work with in an organization that frequently does not make CRISP decisions. Maybe this succinct model will help.

  • Thanks for this. Decision making as a practice skill is greatly under-valued in organizations. People who work in high-risk environments will tell you that lack of understanding about decision making usually results in casualties. I greatly appreciate the thoroughness of this approach.

    • So true, Alan. The story at the beginning of my post is not only true, it just happened this week. Interestingly, in a different discussion recently when I asked the president of Berrett-Koehler how a decision would be made, he said, “we have a specific decision-making process” and immediately sent it to me. The contrast was striking.

  • Jesse thanks for the CRISP decision-making model. I have found the info provided to be true in my past dealings with groups and look forward to using it with two groups that I am currently working with. I always like your succinct and practical advice. Keep up the good work!

  • Jesse,

    This advice is so crucial. I work mostly with nonprofit organizations and so often, they think they are involving constituents, but in fact they fail to do so following these simple rules. Intention isn’t as useful as involvement that is clear and meaningful.


    • Thanks for showing the applicability to the non-profit world, Betsy. Interestingly, these challenges are not dissimilar to the challenges of a matrix organization, which I wrote about last week. When there are multiple constituencies, decision-making can become especially frustrating. Being crisp and clear about the process and roles will have a direct impact on not only the quality of the decision, but also the likelihood of successful implementation.

  • Steve Andrews

    Thanks for sharing and I have shared with those I know. The leaders role is to use CRISP as questions to ensure that followers own the decision making process

  • Andy Phillips

    Great post Jesse. I am tempted to add an S though (making it crisps which undermines the acronym!) but Sustaining the decision is also crucial. In many organizations taking the decision is one step but it is easy through inertia or shifting priorities for that decision to slip.
    Always love your blog posts by the way. Andy

    • That’s a good point, Andy, and thanks for bringing it up. So many times decisions get made and then nothing happens. It seems to me that the role of the “decision steward” would be to shepherd the decision into implementation. But I agree, that it should be clearly built into the model, either through clarifying the role of the steward or by adding another step after the decision is made. Another thing to consider is that once the decision has been made, there are many things to be considered to ensure successful implementation, which I describe in how to create a Team Charter.

  • I think this is a good start, but it is missing a critical step. I am not sure that it is Sustainability, as Andy Phillips frames it, though that could be part of it. It has to do more with testing the outcomes of the decisions. We made a decision, we expected certain outcomes, but what actually happened? Only by going back to our decisions and studying the outcomes will we get better at making and executing on decisions.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Thanks for making that point, Steven. Reviewing decisions is important for agile processes and in a “learning organization,” which all should be.

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