Topic 9.6: Making good decisions
Whether you’re deciding which person to hire, which supplier to use, or which task to crash, the ability to make a good decision with the available information is vital.
It would be easy if there were one formula you could use in any situation, but there isn’t – each decision presents its own challenges, and we all have different ways of approaching problems.
So, how do you avoid making bad decisions – or leaving decisions to chance?
As we saw in the last topic, sourcing reliable data, generating and evaluating potential solutions, and communicating, implementing and reviewing each decision are all steps in the process that should benefit from the input of others (groupthink aside, of course).
In project delivery, there are four main ways we make, communicate and implement decisions: by direction, consultation, consensus, and delegation.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Directive decision-making means making decisions based on your own ideas.
You can do this unassisted – in other words, solving the problem or making the decision based on information you already have – or you can make a researched decision, by obtaining any necessary information from stakeholders or other sources outside the project team, then deciding on the solution to the problem by yourself.
Directive decision-making is most effective when time is of the essence, when the solution is obvious, and/or when you are leading unskilled or uncertain teams – more on that in a minute.
However, wholly directive managers will frustrate the initiative of the team, and may also actually slow project progress down if they become a decision-making bottleneck.
By that I mean if all decisions need to be made or approved by the PM, then work will constantly be stopping and starting to allow this to happen.
Consultative decision-making also requires the project manager to have the final say, but colleagues are somewhat empowered by their own contributions that influence the ultimate decision.
In other words, you make the decision based on the ideas of the project team.
A project manager can either source these contributions one-on-one, by sharing the problem individually with team members; or collectively as we described in the topic on facilitating groups.
Engaging team members or stakeholders in this way may slow the process down a little, but remember our project manager may not always have the technical expertise necessary to make the best calls, and (as we shall see in the next unit) depends on the robust contribution of the team to achieve the best outcomes for their project.
Consensual decision-making cedes control of decision-making to the team.
In this instance, the project manager only has one vote on the direction forward, and usually only uses it as a casting vote if the discussion is deadlocked or stalled.
Although in Western culture we often think of consensual decision-making as slow, in many Eastern cultures, it is just as efficient as consultative decision-making.
This is because the preference for consultative or consensual decision making is culturally embedded.
Imposing a Western, consultative style of group decision-making on an Asian project team may cause offence and disrupt work; while the project manager who always waits for consensus in a Western group will be seen as weak and ineffective.
Finally, as mentioned in the last unit, decisions can also be delegated. Delegation means letting someone else make the decision.
As we saw in the last lesson, usually it refers to pushing the decision down to a team member, and we do this all the time in letting team members get on with their work; however, escalation is also a specific type of decision-making delegation when we push the decision up to senior or executive management.
There are two types of delegation: informed delegation and ballistic delegation.
Informed delegation means providing the delegate with any relevant information you possess, establishing parameters and objectives, and asking to be kept in touch with the process.
The delegate, though, has the responsibility to solve the problem or perform the task.
Ballistic delegation (I love that term) means – as the name suggests – fire and forget.
As the project manager I will give you the information and resources you need; you come back to me when the decision is made or the task is complete.
The ability to successfully delegate is a vital skill for any project manager, and this is something we will explore in more detail in the next topic.
In fact, the decision-making process looks a lot like the business case development process we explored back in the first Module, doesn’t it!
That’s because the business case is a framework we use to arrive at a very specific type of decision – whether or not to begin planning a project.
Ultimately, decision-making is a skill; and skills can usually be improved.
As you gain more experience – and as you become more familiar with the tools and structures needed for effective decision-making – you’ll improve your confidence and ability to make good project decisions.