Reducing the impacts of (in)decision making

While resource unavailability, scope creep or change resistance are all key players in the Injustice League of project management super villains, one of the most corrosive and yet subtle threats is related to decision making.

This insidious evil usually materializes on two fronts:

  1. Delays resulting from analysis-paralysis, a perceived lack of priority in making the decision or a lack of clarity on the context for the decision
  2. Flip-flopping on the decision itself

The impact of these two threats can be a combination of project delays, cost overruns, frustration on the part of project managers and their teams and (most troubling) a perceived lack of credibility in the capability, professionalism or maturity of decision makers.

This issue can become so deep rooted in some organizations that it becomes part of the culture – this makes it that much more difficult for a project manager to address.

So what can be done to address it?

  1. Formalize it – it’s a lot easier to ignore a decision if it’s presented informally.  Presented as a decision request with a clear definition of expected time frame for completion and the impact of not making the decision by the stated deadline makes it harder to avoid.
  2. Set the stage – Sometimes the perceived criticality of a deadline results in project managers requesting a decision in advance of sufficient analysis having been conducted.  This can increase the likelihood of analysis-paralysis or subsequent decision flip-flopping.  The time sensitivity of a decision needs to be weighed against the potential impacts of making a rushed decision, and this can help a project manager decide how much effort should be spent on laying the groundwork for the decision.
  3. Right-size it – some decisions involve too few stakeholders in the review & approval process.  These will often result in flip-flops.  Others (usually due to the best of intentions) will involve too many decision makers. These will either result in delays or worse in the tyranny of the majority.  This is where the benefits of proactive stakeholder analysis become evident – part of this analysis should identify the types of decisions that certain stakeholders should be engaged in.
  4. Review it – as part of a project’s closeout process, review decisions that were made and start to quantify the percentage of decisions that were made late (and resulted in project impacts), or those that were made, and then re-made (and re-made and re-made…).  These metrics can provide a PMO with the quantitative evidence required to change behaviors.  This approach is even more effective if the impact of poor-decision making are also quantified and tracked over time.

While there are always going to be certain decisions that will need to be reversed based on new information, or take longer than was expected to be made, some of these tips might be useful gadgets to add to your project manager’s superhero “utility belt”!


Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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