What’s the best way for project managers to make decisions?

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 By Jack Nevison

What's the best way for project managers to make decisions? Should project managers take the lead in the decision-making process? Or should managers first seek out trusted team members to consider all the angles, then decide on the best course of action?

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, contributor Ron Ashkenas provides an example of each method to demonstrate that either can be effective. The challenge for a skilled project manager is to determine when to apply each one.

Ashkenas' first case concerns a senior leader at large financial firm who was tasked with orchestrating a change.

"While it would have been easier and faster to simply weigh the pros and cons of each issue and then give directions, the senior leader realized that her managers understood the implications better than she did, and that if they didn't fully support the decisions, the execution might be compromised," Ashkenas wrote. "So everyone had to be engaged."

Unfortunately, the other managers could not agree on ways to move forward. To provide an incentive, the senior leader held weekly meetings on Friday afternoons, with the understanding that no one could leave for the weekend until decisions were made.

Next, Ashkenas describes a division president of a manufacturing firm who felt that he was making too many decisions on his own and delaying his team's progress.

He decided to ask team members a series of questions every time they brought something to his attention, as a way to get them to think about the issue and, eventually, decide the best course of action on their own.

"Eventually, through this repeated process of Socratic dialogue, the team members began to work through the issues with each other first, and brought far fewer decisions up to the president," Ashkenas writes.

Project managers must recognize which strategy makes the most sense for a given decision. New Leaf's program, "Complex Problems, Difficult Decisions," can help. In addition, our QPM™ series of estimating games lets managers earn affordable and convenient PDUs for PMP® recertification.

"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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