Dominic Orr, 48, president and CEO, Alteon WebSystems Inc.
What's Your Problem?
"Like a lot of young companies in new industries, we have to make choices every day about competitive strategy and product development. So how can we make decisions that we trust without wasting valuable time?"
Tell Me about It
"Fast execution and fast delivery — that's easy. Fast decision making is harder. Young industries and startups are constantly changing — which means that even day-to-day decisions take on huge strategic importance. Deciding when to ship a product involves fundamental questions about how we develop products in the first place. Making high-stakes decisions as a team is important. But we don't have time for endless debate or for office politics."
What's Your Solution?
"Brutal intellectual honesty. We've distilled that companywide philosophy into a few simple rules. We focus on collecting as many facts as quickly as we can, and then we decide on the best — but not necessarily the perfect — solution. Think Socratic method at the speed of light.
"There's no silent disagreement, and no getting personal, and definitely no 'let's take it offline' mentality. Our goal is to make each major decision in a single meeting. People arrive with a proposal or a solution — and with the facts to support it. After an idea is presented, we open the floor to objective, and often withering, critiques. And if the idea collapses under scrutiny, we move on to another: no hard feelings. We're judging the idea, not the person.
"At the same time, we don't really try to regulate emotions. Passionate conflict means that we're getting somewhere, not that the discussion is out of control. But one person does act as referee — by asking basic questions like 'Is this good for the customer?' or 'Does it keep our time-to-market advantage intact?' By focusing relentlessly on the facts, we're able to see the strengths and weaknesses of an idea clearly and quickly."
Cathy Olofson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and editor based in Belmont, Massachusetts. Contact Dominic Orr by email (email@example.com).
A version of this article appeared in the October 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.