Making a project decision

When making the wrong project decision is right!

Each and every day we have to make hundreds of decisions.  What shirt to wear? To have toast or cereal for breakfast?  Buy a new car? Buy a new house? Propose and get married?

Some decisions could be made every day or even many times a day.  Some, like getting married, may be only once in a lifetime.  In other words, not all decisions are equal,

The type and / or size of the decision usually dictates how easy it is to make the decision.  Small decisions that you make all of the time, such as “toast or cereal for breakfast” can be made with very little thought and very quickly.  Deciding to “get married” takes a lot of thought or time (well for most people anyway)!

Project Decisions

Now take a moment to think of projects or PMO’s that you are / or have worked on.  During the lifetime of the project, there will be a wide array of decisions that need to be made in order to make progress.

What project to select?  What project methodology – waterfall or agile?  Status report frequency?  What resources to recruit?  What order to roll-out to countries?  When to stop a project?

The list goes on and on of small and big decisions.

Project Progress

If I was to ask why do projects fail to deliver on time, what would you say?  My answer would be that one of the main reasons is that it takes too long to get decisions in order for the project to move to the next phase?  Senior management not prepared to sign-off business case.  Business users not prepared to sign-off requirements.  Technology teams not prepared to sign-off choice of technical solution, etc.

This reluctance, you could even go as far to say, the inability of people to sign-off in alignment to the project plan, is a big problem.  Each instance adds a delay to the delivery of the project and, will usually mean overruns of schedule and cost.  Plus there is the opportunity cost of the delay in securing the benefits.

Why Project Indecision?

The main reason people struggle to make decisions are that they do not want to be wrong and self-preservation that they do not want to be seen as endorsing a bad decision.  Unfortunately it is a sad set of affairs that there are a number of organisations who operate with a “blame culture”.  This means that instead of supporting employees in a decision when it does not go as expected, the employee is blamed and / or penalised for the decision even if it was taken based on the best available information.

Given this behaviour, it is understandable why many middle and even senior management are decision adverse.  All of which does not help the project manager.

Bad Project Decision is Right!

OK, if you were intrigued by the title of this post, what does it mean?

Very simply, in the project arena, making progress is paramount.  Therefore, being able to make / facilitate timely decisions helps progress.  This applies when the decision may not be the right or best decision.

Take a moment to examine that statement:

Scenario 1

There are different technical tools that can be used to complete the required task.  The project team creates an evaluation paper.  The project team becomes stuck in a circular loop discussing which tool is best.  When they are close to a decision, a new technical solution emerges and the project team want to then spend time evaluating the new option in the desire to find the best solution.

The real driver is nobody is prepared to make a decision and this can waste a lot of time and delay the progress.

Scenario 2

There are different technical solutions that can be used to complete the task.  The project team creates an evaluation paper.  All stakeholders review and reach a decision based on available data at that point in time.  New technical solution emerges, however project team do not investigate and continue to implement the agreed solution.

However, as work progresses, the project team realises that the solution can not meet all of the requirements so a new solution needs to be chosen.

NOTE: sometimes the project manager or sponsor will need to step up and demonstrate leadership by making the decision.

Analysis

Reading the above, the natural conclusion may be that Scenario 1 was the right choice, and this may be the case.  However, by choosing Scenario 2, the project team would have learned more about the requirements, gain an understanding of data structures, data flows, etc.  This information may reveal that the requirements are incorrect and none of the technical solutions would be correct.

If Scenario 1 had been chosen, this would have been found out a lot later in the project life-cycle causing even longer delays.  So making what was the wrong decision, scenario 2, actually benefited the project in the long run.

IMPORTANT: This strategy needs to be used with care.  There will be some decisions that can be made and if they work out wrong, the consequence / risk is acceptable, others will not be acceptable.  This is something that you can only learn over time (and you will make mistakes).

Summary

Making timely decisions are so important to the progress of projects.  Practicing and developing the ability to take available, often incomplete data and make rapid decisions is a very good skill.  Good project managers and leaders set themselves apart by stepping up and making decisions, even when it might not be the right decision.