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How To Make Project Decisions

Published on Monday, December 15, 2014

How To Make Project Decisions

Projects are full of decisions: everything from how are we going to deal with this huge risk down to what are we doing for our end of year celebration lunch. As the project manager, making a lot of these decisions will fall to you, with input from the others on the team and key stakeholder groups. Oh, wait. That’s pretty much everyone who has ever had anything to do with the project...

Decision making on projects is difficult because so many people have an opinion about the right thing to do. That’s why having a process for making  decisions is really helpful, as it structures your thought processes and provides a fair and transparent framework for moving the project through the  decision point. 

These are the 5 steps I use for making decisions on my projects.

1. Agree who will decide

Who is going to take the decision? In some cases this will be an easy call. The sponsor may have a personal preference for the outcome and thus expect to make the decision. You may feel that the decision falls squarely with you as project manager. Or it could be something that requires input and discussion on a wider basis so that you reach consensus.

If in doubt, look at the Project Charter. It should document who is responsible for which decisions on the project and within what authority limits. For example the project manager may be able to make financial decisions up to a certain limit, or to approve scope changes without further levels of management getting involved if they are less than 5 days worth of work.

For the purposes of this article, let’s say that you will not be making the decision alone, even if you ultimately have the final say. You want to involve others in the decision making process so we move to the next step.

2. Provide the information

Give everyone the right information to make the decision, or at least the opportunity to find it out. Don’t expect them to know the full background without some research. Base your decision on facts so that it is clear why you have chosen that option. Gather the facts, or ask someone to do it for you.

3. Create the right environment

Establish a decision making forum: an environment that’s right to reach a decision. If it’s a small thing that you believe can be resolved quickly you can do it over the phone on a conference call. You might need to have a discussion with just one person. Or you may have to convene and facilitate a meeting with lots of people.

Make sure that you leave enough time for a full discussion so that people have the opportunity to explore all the options, present their case and influence their colleagues.

4. Choose an effective technique

In a large group setting – or even when you are working with a small group – it will help to have some decision making techniques available to you. For example:

· Write all the options up on flip charts and give people one or two stickers each. They vote with their stickers by marking the option they think is best.

· Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages using mind mapping tools and compare the lists.

· Use a weighted list for scoring features and then compare the rankings of your options.

· Group discussion followed by you (or other person) taking the final decision alone based on the information provided during the meeting.

5. Make the decision

Finally, you have to make the decision. This could be in the form of putting forward a recommendation for your sponsor or Project Board to approve. Or you can, as a group or individual, make the final decision in that session. Either way, you should end up with a clear statement of what you are going to do. There is no benefit in compromising to the point that your decision is so vague that no one knows how to implement it.

Try this decision making process and see if it works for you. What would you do differently to adapt the process for your project team? Share your tips and experiences in the comments.

About the author:

Elizabeth Harrin is the author and award-winning blogger behind A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. Get her suggestions for being more productive at work on her blog.


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