Back in December of last year I wrote how “Decision Making is Essential to Good Project Management.” I found that there are many articles already written on how to go about making decisions. One of the best of have read was pointed out in Preetham Nadig’s response to my blog last December. You can read that article, “The case for behavioral strategy” on the McKenzie Quarterly web site. Throughout my career I have been frustrated by slow decision making on my projects. Today I would like to elaborate more on the authority of project managers to make decisions.
Many experts on leadership point out that the worst decision is the decision not to make a decision. You can find this phrased in many different ways but the meaning is the same. What many people don’t realize is that avoiding a decision is a decision in itself. The ramifications of avoiding or delaying a decision must be analyzed against actually making a decision. In my previous blog I emphasized some of the problems that can occur if decisions are not made in a timely manner.
The lack of a decision can be quite detrimental to any project. To be successful, projects must continuously make forward progress. Since the project manager’s performance is measured by the success of their project(s) it is of utmost importance that project managers ensure that decisions are made effectively.
There are two categories of decisions that I will define here. The first is a decision that is out of the project manager’s control and the second is a decision that is within the project manager’s control. Yes, there is a lot of gray area in between and being able to decipher who has the authority to make decisions is not easy.
For those decisions that are clearly outside of the project manager’s authority the project manager must document these decisions and the affect of the decision on the project. This must include how the timing of the decision will affect the project. Typically the longer that a decision takes the more risk, cost time is added to the project. This all must be clearly documented and sent to the project sponsor(s) and decision makers. Once the decision is made the project manager then will have a basis to re-baseline the project once the decision is made.
For the project manager the difficultly comes in determining which decisions they have authority to make and which they do not. There is a tendency for project managers to step back from making decisions that our within their realm of authority. Over time this will diminish the authority of the project manager. This is not unique to project managers as people in general are concerned about making the wrong decision. In my career I have always tried to error on the side of making more decisions rather than less. This has had the natural effect of increasing my authority level.
To gain authority the project manager must continuous test their authority level because no one will actually tell them where your authority level ends. In fact, if you ask, you will likely be told that you have much less authority than you can actually take. My experience has been that people are typically happy if you make decisions beyond your control. If you go too far you will be corrected and I do not believe that this will really be viewed negatively. Organizations are in desperate need of decision makers. Stepping up to the plate to help in