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Decision-making for project managers

Michelle LaBrosse
May 23, 2011

Indecision can happen to anyone, and often occurs when you least expect it. The pause that takes place when you are in the midst of making any important (or not so important) decision is like a comma in your life, separating one idea from the next, and one task from another. And like anyone who has passed the third grade knows, the comma rule states: “When in doubt, leave it out!” This rule can be applied similarly to life’s frozen moments of indecision. When it doubt, leave that pause out.

Now, I’m not encouraging you to stop making decisions all together. I’m talking about the decisions that take an inordinately long time to process. Some of the reasons that we succumb to prolonged indecision are the following:

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion

When you have to make a decision, give yourself a time limit on when you will have to come up with your final choice. Some of the hardest decisions are the ones that linger because they have no time limit. You wouldn’t tell your project team to decide who will be creating the work breakdown structure for various tasks without giving them a deliverable date. Use this same discipline in your own decision making process by giving yourself a time frame in which to make a decision, and hold yourself accountable to it.

Too many options

Options are fantastic when you are in an ice cream parlour. Options can rear their ugly heads when they are abundant and when the benefits of each are unclear. In the case of ice cream, you are pretty much guaranteed to be satisfied no matter which option you choose. But what if you are deciding among various vendors to fulfil a certain task of a project, and you have so many that its hard to see the forest through the trees anymore? This is when you have to develop a systematic rating system to help you objectively assess your options without getting lost in details.

Tasks are of equal importance

The typical rule of thumb for tasks at hand is to do the most important and urgent tasks first, and work your way down, putting out fires as you go. A dilemma arises when you have a variety of tasks to perform, and they all have around the same urgency level, whether they are all of high urgency or all of low urgency. There you find yourself again, frozen in indecision, wondering what you should do first. The bad news is that there is no right answer to this question. The good news is that there is no wrong answer, either. If you have a list of tasks to do that have the same priority, convert your anxiety into action and just start.

Waiting for more information

Many times we postpone making decisions because we are waiting to gather more information. I have always followed the philosophy of ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’. In most cases, you will never have all the information that you need to make a decision, but rather need to use the knowledge and resources that you have to do the best you can, and modify your tasks as you go. The hardest part of most tasks is just getting started, so stop waiting, and start doing!

And remember, decisions made too soon tend to have to get made again. Make decisions when the time is right to make those decisions and not before. Tune into how and when you make your best decisions. Use this information to help you learn how to make better decisions.

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Michelle LaBrosse
Michelle LaBrosse (PMP) is one of the Project Management Institute's (PMI) 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World and the founder of Cheetah Learning, a former PMI Professional Development Provider of the Year. She boasts a background in engineering and is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Managers (OPM) program, as well as a prolific writer and educator, having authored Cheetah Negotiations, Cheetah Project Management, Cheetah Know How and Cheetah Exam Prep as well as numerous articles in publications worldwide.
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