Decision-making. For some of us, the very words cause cold sweats and anxiety. After all, when you’re making decisions that can have an impact on your entire project, it comes with its fair share of stress. By definition, decision making is “the thought process of selecting a logical choice from the available options.” For Project Managers (PMs), decision making is a ‘must-have’ skill, no matter the industry. PMs are routinely required to choose the next best step for whatever situation it is they face at the moment. While decision making is easy to define, it’s something that many people struggle with — particularly when the success of a project is on the line.
Though we have a number of tools and software options to choose from to help us in our role and various duties as PMs, there is unfortunately no tool that exists that allows you to plug in your data and menu of choices … and voila — makes the right choice for you. If only!
A simple decision making process goes something like this:
- Identify that a decision needs to be made
- Gather the necessary data
- Assess options
- Make a decision
- Take action on the decision.
Ok, there are the steps, but what about making the decision process a little less daunting? Let’s explore five ways PMs can improve decision making.
Give Yourself Time — Don’t Make Hasty Decisions
There aren’t many situations that will require you to make a snap decision, even if it feels like that is what’s being asked of you in the moment. Don’t be afraid to ask for and take some time to really weigh your options and review the facts before coming to a conclusion.
Even if you are feeling pressured to make a quick decision, take a few moments to organize your thoughts, consider the data available to you, and your options. Even better, sleep on your decision to see if you feel the same way about whatever choice you landed on in the morning.
Gather All the Information You Need
Gathering facts before you make any decision is an absolute must. If you don’t have all of the information you need, you’re guessing at what the right outcome should be and relying on luck to get you through. Because a PMs decisions can have major implications on the project’s budget, deadlines, staff, and entire project’s outcome, it’s best to gather as much information as you can before you land on a decision.
Look at the data you have. Decisions feel much easier when you have all the facts. More often than not, you’ll notice that the right decision ‘pops out’ at you when you’re combing through the data.
Tip: While you want to gather all of the facts that will help you make the best decision, it’s also important to minimize the data you’re using. Cut through the noise and focus only on the information that is relevant to the decision you need to make.
Hear from Others (and Really Listen!)
You don’t exist in a silo—at least you shouldn’t! You have a whole team of staff and subject matter experts to help you make a good decision. Talk to your subject matter experts and ask for their opinions and expertise.
Sometimes when you’re in the thick of something, it’s hard to remove your own biases and personal opinions from the matter at hand. So talking with someone who is a little more removed from the problem can bring in a perspective you might otherwise not have had. If you either can’t or don’t want to get opinions from your team (particularly if this is an HR issue), then talk to a mentor if you have one, or a colleague in a similar industry who can weigh in.
As a PM, you already live in a world that requires you to be flexible, so it’s likely that’s a part of who you are. Even still, the most flexible among us get set in our ways. Your preferred decision making process might not work for every scenario put in front of you, so be flexible enough to bend your process, depending on the situation. For example, you may consult with your team on a budget issue, but wouldn’t do so for an HR issue.
Try to approach each decision in the way that best suits the issue at hand. Being flexible is all about knowing that you have the skills and experience to measure each situation and choose the correct way forward, even if it’s something completely different from what you’ve done in the past.
Assess the Impact your Decision Will Make
Once you have the answer you think you’ll land on, it’s time to consider the implications and impact this choice will have. What happens if you make this decision? Think about what (and who) it will affect.
Ditch your emotions and personal preferences. Though you may have a personal attachment to one particular choice, it’s important that you remove yourself and your own feelings from the equation, as much as you can. Although your intuition is likely on-point much of the time, it’s important that you don’t rely on intuition alone when making decisions for your project. That would be akin to shooting an arrow in the dark and hoping for the best, and no good PM wants to operate that way!
Decision making is a crucial skill for project managers, and just like a muscle, your decision-making skills develop over time. You’ll find decision making a little easier (though likely never easy!) the more experience you have under your belt. Don’t be afraid to call in for help from your team and other experts when you need it. Stay flexible, and trust in your process and knowledge.
Do you have any decision making tips for fellow PMs? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!