Are tradeoffs a bugaboo for skilled project managers?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 By Jack Nevison

Before leading a team on a new project, a project manager should be familiar with the term "trickle-down tradeoffs." As Harvard Business Review contributor Nick Tasler explains, trickle-down tradeoffs occur when project managers cannot decide "which old directions are going to be sacrificed in service of the new direction."

"[T]he tradeoff doesn't magically disappear," Tasler writes. "It simply slides down the ladder."

The example Tasler offers is of a project manager who fails to instruct team members to spend the next quarter strengthening existing customer relationships, rather than seeking out new prospects. Tasler suggests that an unequivocal decision would lead to better results than the alternative, in which "each team member now has to decide … whether to call on an existing customer or go find a new one every time they pick up the phone, open their email, or hop in the car."

It's not a particularly efficient way of running a team. Trickle-down tradeoffs undermine team alignment toward the common goal, as individuals make different choices about what to do. While project managers should consider multiple viewpoints, they must be able to make definitive decisions at crucial junctures in a project.

In fact, Tasler cites a study that suggests pushing tradeoff decisions down to the team level actually depletes the team's "mental capacity," making it harder to make good judgments in other areas. As Tasler says, when "your team has to spend long mornings making tradeoffs, it leads to long afternoons of either staring at the wall and web-surfing, or making poor choices." This is not something any project manager wants to occur when a deadline is approaching.

This is why New Leaf Project Management helps project managers train for their PMP® certification. With our QPM™ series of games, managers, can hone their skills while earning affordable and convenient PDUs.

"PMI," PMP," and "PMBOK" are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.

"QPM" is a registered mark of New Leaf Project Management. All rights reserved.

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