How to Actually Make and Execute Better Decisions

Our lives are the sum total of all the decisions we’ve made – financial decisions, health decisions, whether to marry or not to marry, whether or not to have children, and where to work. My goal today is to help you make better project decisions. Here’s why — individuals, teams, departments, and organizations who make better decisions improve their chance for success.

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto (edited in Canva)

Photo courtesy of DollarPhoto (edited in Canva)

Think about how hard it is for you to make decisions alone. You go to a store to buy toothpaste. How many choices do you have? There are shelves of toothpaste to whiten your teeth, strengthen the enamel, protect against tartar build-up, and probably one to freshen your dog’s breath.

It’s hard enough for an individual to make a decision. What happens when we add another person to the mix? The husband likes cooler temperatures in the house; the wife is constantly turning up the thermostat.

Let’s make things even more interesting — let’s create a project team of eight people. The team members have different backgrounds, work experiences, expertise, and motives. Now decision making is exponentially more complex.

When project teams fail to make good decisions, it can be costly. Poor decisions cause rework resulting in missed deadlines, higher cost, and adverse impacts to team morale. If these issues are pervasive across an enterprise, the organization will likely fail to fulfill its mission.

How can project managers make better project decisions?

  1. Plan for better decisions
  2. Identify and capture your decisions
  3. Evaluate your decisions

“A decision is a judgment. It is a choice between alternatives. It is rarely a choice between right and wrong. It is at best a choice between “almost right” and “probably wrong” — but much more often a choice between two courses of action neither of which is probably more nearly right than the other.” –Peter Drucker

1. Plan for Better Decisions

During the planning process, project managers create plans such as schedule management plans, budget plans, and requirement plans. Some project managers develop decision plans.

In the early part of each project, project managers may ask the project sponsor and team members, “What are the most significant decisions that must be made in the course of this project? When should the decisions be made? Who should make each decision? How should the decisions be made?”

Some project managers create and use a decision register or log in their projects. This approach is much better than keeping decisions in emails and minutes. If you know the important questions early in your projects, you may prefill the register with these questions and identify the decisions makers.

2. Identify and Capture Your Decisions

How many times have you heard someone make a significant project decision but no one summarized and captured it? Later in the project, someone challenged the decision. Questions had begun to surface: Who made the decision? Did the decision maker have the authority to make the decision? What data or information was used to make the decision?

Wise project managers have their antenna up, listening for important decisions. Once the decisions are made, validate and capture the decisions.

3. Evaluate Your Decision Register

John, a project manager, has a habit of reviewing his decision register with his team periodically. He asks the following questions:

  • Are all the significant decisions captured in the register?
  • Have new decisions been made that need to be captured? If so, what are they?
  • Are the same decisions popping up over and over?

If you find several decisions surfacing repeatedly, there are likely deeper issues. It’s time to analyze what is causing the decisions to resurface? Lack of information. Insufficient participation of key stakeholders. Poor analysis.

Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Once the root causes are identified, change your habits — improve your decision process for future decisions.

Decision makers make decisions based on the information at hand. The decision may be the right decision based on what is known at a given point in time. However, we may discover flaws in our decisions when we execute the decisions.

One way to mitigate this risk is to build prototypes. People often struggle to tell you what they want. However, individuals will quickly tell you what they don’t want when they see it. Simple prototypes such as a diagram on a whiteboard can often surface unknown issues. When the stakeholders see the prototype, they are enlightened, and they can make better decisions, resulting in less rework later in the project.

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How to Actually Make and Execute Better Decisions

Feeling stuck in your project? Can't seem to make decisions promptly that stick?

I've put together this simple guide to help you:

  • Plan for better decisions
  • Identify and capture decisions
  • Evaluate your decisions
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