How to Always Make Great Project Decisions

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I realize I said “always” in the title and that’s probably a little misleading.  Why?  Because it’s just not possible.  There’s no way we can guarantee that every project decision that we make as project managers on all of our engagements will be great decisions…or even good ones.

However, there are things we can do to try to ensure that we aren’t making “bad” decisions and that we are at least “likely” making the best decision that we can given the time and information available to us.  For me, it’s a process…that process is part of what I refer to as my own best practices of project management.  And since decision making ranks very high on the list of responsibilities for every leader and project manager, this list gets a heavy workout on every project that I manage.

Here is my process….

Assess the issue.

Some decisions absolutely have to be made on the spot based on what you know at that exact moment in time.  Thinking in non-project terms, if your child falls on the playground and hits his head, you have precious little time to decide between three things…ice it, call your doctor and make an appointment, or call the emergency services.  So how big is your decision?  Do I need to a make an on the spot call, or can I perform some info gathering, involve some experts, discuss it with the team, and move forward?  For the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume you have at least a small amount of time to use your leadership skills and go through a decision making process.

Consider the input.

Here’s where the end to end thought process begins, so you’ll want to be capturing everything that comes to mind…assuming you have the time to do so.  I recommend a good mind mapping software solution to start capturing your thoughts – and the thoughts of your team and other stakeholders – as you move along the process of molding the information you are considering into intelligent potential decision solutions.

Involve other experts.

Who else can you go to for input and advice on the decision? How will you define success?  The best place to start is with anyone who has vested stake in the project’s outcome – so that would be your key stakeholders.  Depending on the decision needs, there are stakeholders who would not add any value to the decision making process.  For example, if the issue is very technical in nature, it won’t do you much good to involve a key stakeholder who has virtually no technical knowledge.  But consider the stakeholders first and then begin to look for other subject matter experts – or SMEs – inside (and outside, if relevant) the organization who can provide good input into the decision making process.  And, of course, capture this info in your mind mapping software or similar tool as you gather it from various individuals.

Involve the team.

Undoubtedly the team is aiding you in this info gathering and assessing process.  But there comes a point where you likely have as much information as your going to have – given constraints of time and money – to make a good decision on the issue.  Sit down again with the project team, review the info you’ve mapped out, and come to a conclusion on the best decision or solution to take to your project client.  It’s ok to make the client part of this decision making team up to this point as well – if it’s appropriate for the project and decision.  But the key is to run through the information you have with your team and make the best decision possible.

Take it to the client/move forward.

Finally, take the decision to the client – if appropriate or necessary – and move forward with action.  This may seem like an involved process, but on most projects going through these steps – even for a decision with a very large potential impact – may be happening over the course of only a couple of hours or so.  It comes down to getting the best input you possibly can in the time you have available – then make the best decision you possibly can and move forward with it.

Summary

In the end, the project manager must be accountable for the decisions he makes – it’s one of the most obvious business tips but decision-making is a key responsibility of the job. So having the best information and involving the best help you can is critical at times.  Understand the issue, accurately capture what helpful information you can, and then make the best decision possible.  Then stand by that decision and own its outcome.

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