Not a member? Join here

Simplifying Decision Making

jason orloske productivity professional development Oct 19, 2022
Simplifying Decision Making

"Can you make a decision on this?"

This question can strike terror in the hearts of many!  Does the decision need to be made today?  Will it cause irreparable harm to the project and potentially the company?  Will I be fired if I'm wrong?  If I don't decide, will it just work itself out? Decisions.  In writing this article, I found different studies that say we make around 120 informed decisions a day and up to 35,000 total choices per day.  We're making decisions all the time!

Making decisions can be stressful.  Decisions at work especially so.  As project leaders, or just leaders in general, we need to be comfortable and confident making decisions in often ambiguous environments.  We also need to be constantly learning from the decisions we make, as well as improving our decision making processes. When it comes to making decisions, here are some of the key points I take into consideration.

Simplify the complex

I was once handed a spreadsheet with a list of proposed projects.  But instead of a narrative about what the project was to accomplish and strategic value, it was all numbers.  It included dollars values of projected development costs, marketing budget, and ROI over a 3-5 year period.  They also had market share percentages and other numbers I had no idea what they meant.  If I were to help prioritize the portfolio, how could I make decisions off of all these different numbers?

Over the course of a couple days and many conversations, I finally talked to the CFO.  He looked at everything and highlighted two numbers for each project.  "These are what's important to the company.  Ignore the rest.  They're just noise."  Perfect!  I created a portfolio presentation focusing on just the two numbers that were important.  I also worked with the project submitters to have a couple bullets about what the project was to accomplish.  The governance committee was able to quickly review and decide which projects we were going to pursue, and which would get shelved.

More often than not, there is a lot of complexity around the decisions that need to be made.  SIMPLIFY!  Cut through the noise and focus on what's important.  Someone on your leadership team, or your sponsor, has a framework they make decisions off of.  Whether it's ROI, market share, or some other metric, understand what's important to the deciding group and cover that information in a simple format.  This is also applicable for decisions you and your team will need to make.

Get Input From Others, But You Own The Decision

As a project leader, you'll need to make a lot of decisions, but cannot make them in a vacuum.  There are people way smarter than me on my project or in the PMO.  We all work in a chaotic, fast-paced environment, so for the project leader to have all the necessary information is almost impossible.  

Having other team members involved in the decision making process has a couple of key advantages.  First, you get multiple points of view from people with different perspectives and who may be closer to the information.  Second, those who provide input will have greater accountability and ownership once the decision is made.  Ultimately, the quality of the decision will be better with the team involved.  BUT, once the decision is made, you as the project leader own it!  

For example, I was leading a large program implementing a new software that would be used by the global organization for all financial reporting.  Once the vendor was selected, we had to implement a new technology architecture approach never used by the company before.  A key decision with huge expense and time implications had to be made.  The executive sponsor told me to make the call.  I gathered the key team members.  For an hour we discussed, debated, researched, discussed some more, and ultimately came to the best option.  Not everyone agreed, but the majority of the smart people in the room believed it was the best approach.  I made the decision.  I told the sponsor we worked as a team but ultimately I owned the decision and getting it implemented.  We got it done successfully, though with a few hiccups!

Strong>Should I Even Make This Decision?

Not all project decisions need to be made by you, the project leader.  I know people who will adamantly disagree.  However, there are others on the project teams who have more information and experience, and can be a better decision than you!

Marketing once assigned a communications specialist to my program to send out regular pre and post release information.  We worked to develop a communications plan and the key messaging we wanted to get across.  Are we aligned?  Yep!  Or, at least I thought.  When getting ready to send the first email to the stakeholder group, I was asked to make a decision on format.  Should we have a bullet point here?  Should there be a picture?  The questions kept coming!  Finally I told the specialist that as long as the messaging was agreed upon, everything else is their decision.  I'm not the expert.  The best decision I can make, is not to make one.  Let others do that.

Decisions Are About Looking Forward, But Also Occasionally Look Back

Whether it's me, the sponsor, or some other stakeholder, once a decision is made we move forward and execute!  Decisions are forward-facing.  However, once a decision is made and is being implemented, new information can alter its path.  Don't be afraid to bring new information front and center!  Remember, you made the best decision for the project at the time, but new information can come to light that may make that decision even better, or avoid potential disaster.

Think of it as driving a car.  My decision is to get from point A to point B faster.  So, I put my right foot down a little farther and challenge the posted speed limit.  I'm moving forward.  But, if I'm just looking ahead and not occasionally behind, I may not see the state trooper sneaking up behind me.  Always look behind to see if anything has changed!

Decisions Are Words Needing Action

Congratulations!  A decision has been made!  You'll probably update a decision log and breathe a sigh of relief.  But, making a decision is only half the equation.  The other half turning it into action.

As I mentioned before, the people involved will have greater accountability and ownership of the decision since they were involved.  But my guess is only a small portion of your team was involved.  The rest need to be informed.  As the project leader, you need to paint a very clear picture of the decision that was made and how it benefits the project.  I've seen a lot of project managers communicate a decision and leave it at that.  Sometimes it works. However, I've found that to be an effective leader, I need to communicate benefits and the impact to project team members.  They can align pretty quick if you can do that.

Decisions.  You'll be making a lot of them, but they don't need to cause stress and anxiety.  Simplify the decisions to be made so they can be done quickly.  Don't belabor the decision in search of a perfect solution.  Perfect takes time, which there is a cost to.  Move forward and improve.  Decide on what, not necessarily how.  Leave the how to the people or team doing the actual work. Once you decide, execute!