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Why There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Decision

avoiding bad decisionsManagement – and project management – is a series of small (and sometimes big) decisions.

At work recently I had cause to question one of my decisions. I had made a decision that affected other people (as most decisions do). I communicated the decision, replanned accordingly and updated my risk log. I documented the decision on my decision log template.

Then I got some more information.

It wasn’t information that fundamentally made my decision wrong. However, it did make it slightly less black and white. I started to question whether I had done the right thing.

I thought I needed some help making better decisions.

An older (and wiser) colleague told me something that made me realise I had absolutely made the right choice. “There’s no such thing as a bad decision,” he said.

That sounded rather flippant to me, so we discussed it further.

If you make a good decision, all is well.

If you make a ‘bad’ decision, you learn from it.

Say that you decide to hold negotiations with one supplier. You plan to visit their offices and attend a presentation for their services but later you realise you don’t want to use them after all. It’s too late to back out of their presentation so you maintain the meeting and attend their pitch anyway. Is that a bad decision?

Your time would be better spent in the procurement process for another vendor. However, by attending the presentation you get to learn about that vendor that you don’t want to use, which could be interesting. You get to visit some other offices. It’s always nice to nose around where someone else works – every cloud has a silver lining and all that.

Even a ‘bad’ decision stops inertia and moves things forward. You can always revise your decision later.

So, all decisions are good. Or, if you can’t subscribe to the ‘all decisions are good’ philosophy, all decisions have elements of goodness in them.

Failure to decide means failure to act

What is bad is making no decision. This leaves the project team in limbo. They don’t know what is going on or what direction they should be going in. Inertia sets in. Nothing is clear and the project cannot move forward.

Read next: Making decisions as a group

Putting world politics and economic policy aside, in project management terms I’m convinced that there is no such thing as a bad decision. What decision are you going to make today?

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Decision Log Template

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

Comments

  1. Waqar says

    23 November, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Well I agree with “No bad decision exists”, however I may want to add point that decisions in project management can have impact on multiple activities. So if decision is looking bad for some activities, than It must have good impact on other activities.

    • Elizabeth says

      23 November, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      Waqar, I don’t agree that a decision that is bad for some aspects of the project is necessarily good for other aspects. However, it is a great idea to, as you suggest, look at the decision from multiple viewpoints so that you have a rounded view of it and how it will affect multiple activities. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  2. John05290 says

    8 November, 2011 at 8:39 am

    the quote stated in your article that
    If you make a good decision, all is well.

    If you make a ‘bad’ decision, you learn from it. is true in every project manager life . more so, if you take a bad decision every one will pound on you. every project manager need to beer with this. from my experience i just want to share that do something like any certification which help in your career and decreases your chances of making wrong decisions.

    • Elizabeth says

      8 November, 2011 at 7:49 pm

      John, I don’t believe that certification will help you make better decisions. Certification itself is just the process of taking the exam. Studying project management can help, but only because it gives you a potentially wider range of options. You are right that it is likely that you’ll be criticised if you take a ‘bad’ decision. Most organisational cultures work like this, unfortunately. You need to be in a supportive environment to help you learn from your mistakes.

  3. Simon says

    6 November, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks Elizabeth, interesting post. I still think there are bad decisions though, as in decisions with undesirable outcomes if we also you fail to learn from them. However, I guess you’re also right that a non-decision (and associated delay and loss of momentum) is even worse than that.

    • gypc_dave says

      6 November, 2011 at 8:33 pm

      Indeed – anyone who follows politics will agree that there are some monumentally bad decisions, many of them made in voting booths.  But those who fear making decisions should not allow themselves to be put in leadership positions.  It is better to be decisive and occasionally wrong than to let your options be gradually eliminated in the passage of time.  There’s no sin in being wrong, unless you refuse to acknowledge the error.

      That said, if you’ve eliminated me as a prospective vendor, please tell me, so I don’t have to waste my time or yours.  And while you’re at it, tell me why I was eliminated, so I can learn.  Even if your perceptions or facts are wrong, I’d like to know, so I can improve my communication.

      • Elizabeth says

        7 November, 2011 at 10:32 pm

        Dave, point taken about the vendor thing. No one likes to have their time wasted. If the procurement followed a standard and transparent process, with scores for different features or categories, then it should be an easy job to provide feedback, but I know many companies don’t do it routinely. That makes you wonder how they make their decisions…

    • Elizabeth says

      7 November, 2011 at 10:37 pm

      Is a decision with an undesirable outcome a bad decision, or a bad outcome? I’m playing with semantics, but I quite like the idea that the decision-making process can be good (transparent, honest, quick), even if the option chosen is undesirable (close an office). I wonder if someone following a good decision-making process could end up with the wrong/a bad outcome, because the process should guide them towards the right/a good answer. Thanks for your comment, Simon, that’s lots of food for thought!

  4. Megan says

    3 November, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Agreed that there are no truly “bad” decisions. To help avoid any slip-ups at work however, try ProTasker! This Project Management software offers a suite of highly productive features that help organizations stay ahead of the curve by centralizing and managing important contacts, projects, tasks and calendars.
     

    • Elizabeth says

      3 November, 2011 at 9:11 pm

      Megan, it looks like you work for a PR company, so I’m guessing that this comment is marketing. If you have a personal recommendation about this software, I’d be glad to hear it.

  5. Aly says

    3 November, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Hi Elizabeth – First of all, I was at the PMI Congress last week and it was great seeing you and hearing your insights!  I work for a risk software company and the “bad decision” fear can be crippling at times – especially as a woman in a male dominated industry. You’re so right, it is important to remember that even a wrong decision will teach you something important. 

    Anyways, thanks for sharing! – Aly 

    • Elizabeth says

      3 November, 2011 at 9:15 pm

      Aly, thanks for your comment. In an environment with high risk, the result of making the ‘wrong’ decision could be significant, so you would have to weigh up the pros and cons of making any decision against a decision that would potentially have serious repercussions. I hadn’t considered that being in an unsupportive environment (not that you are, necessarily, I mean in general) would also make taking decisions harder and add to the procrastination we sometimes feel.
      Maybe today we should decide to always make timely decisions!

      • Aly says

        4 November, 2011 at 9:18 pm

        Hi Elizabeth, thanks for the response!  Luckily for me, my personal slice of the technology/software industry is very supportive 🙂  I think a lot of “bad decision fear” (at least for me) has to do with perfectionism, which is not necessarily a good thing. You’re so right – let’s take a stand to make timely decisions no matter how badly we want to put them off!

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