We make hundreds of decisions on projects. Every day, we’re expected to take some action and that inevitably means making a decision about something.
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It might be something small like whether or not to call a meeting. Or it might be something substantive like whether to escalate an issue to your sponsor.
Decision making is a key skill. But what do we mean by ‘decision making’?
What is Decision Making?
Decision making is the ability to select an option from a range of choices. And, hopefully, choosing the best next step for whatever situation you happen to be in at the time.
It might seem simple to define, but many people find decision making at work quite difficult.
So why is that?
Why is Decision Making Difficult?
It’s hard to make decisions because:
- You might not have all the data
- You might not feel like you have the right to make the decision
- You’re worried about choosing the wrong option.
Don’t worry about that last point. If it’s bothering you, read why I think there’s no such thing as a bad decision.
Something you can do to make decision making easier is to have a process for it. A process helps you step through the different options to give yourself confidence that you’ve covered all the angles and are ready to make the decision.
The Decision Making Process
The decision making process is the main tool for making decisions. I haven’t come across ‘tools’ where you can plug in all the data and out pops the decision you should make. I think humans are key to making the right call, so it’s hard to use tools to do that job.
There are lots of strategies for decision making, but a simple process looks like this:
- Identify that you need to make a decision – this might seem like a silly step to have, but identifying that a decision needs to be taken is honestly the first step in taking action!
- Gather the data. What information do you need to be able to take the next step? Get the stats or talk to people who can help inform you.
- Assess the options. There are likely to be several, including ‘do nothing’ which is always an option and can be a conscious choice.
- Choose an option. This is the decision. Make the call. Just do it!
- Follow through. Take the necessary steps to turn your decision into action. For example, if you decided to delay your project by two weeks, update everyone on the team with that information and review your project schedule.
That’s the main decision making model, but there is another useful step you can take. After a while, review the decision and see whether – with hindsight – you are still happy with the call you made.
Being reflective about decisions can help you make better choices next time.
And talking of making better choices… here are 5 simple suggestions for how to make better decisions.
5 Ways to Make Better Decisions
You can improve your decision making. The more you do it, the more confident you’ll get. But you can also tweak how you approach decision making to give yourself a better chance of a good outcome.
Here are some tips.
1. Give Yourself Enough Time
Making a decision under a lot of time pressure is one of easiest ways to get trapped into getting it wrong.
Even if you thrive under pressure, a few minutes of quiet time to consider the data and the options is going to help you make the right choice. If you can, sleep on your decision and see if you still feel the same way in the morning.
There are very few situations you will come across in your career where you’ll need to make a snap decision without being able to think it over. Most people will be open to the idea that you want to review the facts before making a pronouncement, so if you need extra time, ask for it (if, indeed you need to ask anyone at all).
2. Get All the Facts
Decision making is important in business because the decisions made lead to financial implications for the organisation. So you decide to recommend a risk mitigation strategy? That’s costing the business something, whether it’s time or resource.
As the implications for business can be significant, it’s important decisions are the right ones. And that can be helped by getting all the facts.
If you don’t have the facts, you’re guessing at what the right outcome should be, and frankly you’re relying on luck to get you through.
“I’ve been lucky” is not something you want to write on your resume.
Talk to people. Look at the data. Use your own judgement. Dig deeper. Decisions are easier when you know the facts – often the right choice pops to the surface as it’s obvious.
3. Think of the Consequences
Think about the natural consequences of your decision. This can help you frame what needs to happen next – is it really what you want?
For example, will your decision lead to more decisions on how to resource or pay for your chosen course of action?
You might need to get other people to weigh in here, as it’s often easier to draw on the wisdom of crowds to think through the logical next steps.
4. Seek Other Opinions
Use the experts in your team. While the decision might be yours to make, it doesn’t hurt to get a second or third (or more) opinion. In fact, someone who is a bit more removed from the problem than you are can bring perspective that you don’t have.
If you need to involve a group in coming together to make a collective decision, then read How to Help Teams Make Group Decisions.
If you don’t want to be seen getting input from the team — and there may be situations where that isn’t possible, like an HR issue, for example — then talk to your mentor or a trusted manager.
Your decision making process might not work for every decision, so be prepared to flex your approach to suit the situation.
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. If you work in project management, it’s a world 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.
Decision Making Skills
The skills you need for decision making are:
- Leadership: because you need other people to trust you can make the decision and to abide by what you decide
- Communication: so you can explain the decision making process and the final decision to your colleagues
- Ability to process data: because you might need to sift through a lot of facts (numbers and “evidence” from people) and assimilate all that information to make your decision
- Decisiveness: ha! It’s a bit circular to include that but I’ll mention it because once you’ve made a decision you should stick with it (unless it’s quickly uncovered to be a ridiculous thing to do, in which case you need humility to admit your mistake and move on)
- Self-awareness: because you need to identify your personal biases in decision making and work around regression to mean and the illusion of control
- Risk management: because any choice you make will have risk associated with it, so it’s helpful to be able to assess and consider those risks as you are making the decision
- Ethics: decision making ethics are so important. You have to consider what’s right for the people, the project, the business and more generally, what’s the ethical thing to do.
Decision making is such a crucial skill for business leaders and project managers. Hopefully the tips in this article will help you make great choices at work.
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