This is a guest post by Ben Ferris. Scroll to the bottom for a free decision log template to help you record your decisions once they’re made.
The decisions you make every single day on your projects will greatly affect the eventual outcome of them. This means that if you can learn to make better decisions then you should expect to run more successful projects. It sounds really simple and to be honest most of the best tips I have come across are pretty straightforward once you think about them.
1. Give yourself time
Making a decision under a lot of time pressure is one of the surest ways of getting it wrong. I think it is safe to say that most of us think better when we have a few minutes of peace and quiet to consider the facts. In fact, a lot of the time you will come to a better decision if you sleep on the matter before giving your opinion. There are very few situations you will come across in your project management career where you will need to make a snap decision without being able to think it over. You should therefore avoid rushing into your decisions and instead take your time to get them right instead of simply getting them out of the way quickly.
2. Get all the facts
Another common mistake made by under pressure project managers is to make their decisions without being aware of all of the facts. If you do this then the only way you can expect to get the right conclusion is through sheer luck. Probably the most important step in your decision making process is that of doing your fact finding and working out what it is all about. This is a part of the process which it is easy to rush past but if you want to get it right then you will want to spend sufficient time on this stage before you even start to consider what your options are for the final decision. You might even find that once you have all of the facts the decision becomes a lot easier than you thought it was going to be.
3. Think of the consequences
One of the other points which it is easy to overlook is that of the consequences of your decision. For example, will it lead to you needing more budget or more team members or will it result in a change to the project plan? There are often a number of different follow-on effects to consider before you go ahead and act on your decision. You might need to organize a workshop or at least seek the expert opinions of others before you can safely state what the consequences of your decision could be.
4. Seek other opinions
The last point mentioned looking for other opinions and this is something worth bearing in mind in other circumstances as well. What can sometimes happen is that you end up being too close to the project and therefore can’t see the wood for the trees. If you go and get the opinion of someone who is a bit more distant from the piece of work then you might be surprised by the different perspective they can offer you.
If you are very lucky you might find that you work close to someone who is an excellent sounding board and who can give you the advice you need at the right times. I used to work beside someone who met this description and he made my life a whole lot easier. Best of all, he never imposed his opinions on me or got involved without being asked. He just sat there listening to what was going on around him and then gave me some wise words whenever I asked him for advice.
5. Be flexible
Not every decision you need to make will require the same thought process, so you need to be sure to adopt a flexible approach which allows you to adapt your ideas to the situation. The project management world is one which requires you to be flexible anyway so you should soon get into the habit of being flexible. You should approach each decision in the way which best suits it.
Personally I like to make out a list of the strengths and weaknesses of each potential decision but I know that this isn’t necessarily the best approach in every single case. Being flexible is all about knowing that you have the skills and experience to weigh up the situation and choose the right way forward even if it is completely different from the way you have done things in the past.