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The Essential Question

When directly asked, most Project Managers recognise that the level of success their project teams are likely to achieve is directly correlated to the team’s ability to make effective decisions. If the team can consistently make good decisions, the chances of success are high. If they make bad decisions, the chances of success are greatly reduced. Despite the obvious correlation, the role of decision making in the project environment is generally poorly understood.

If we can agree that the correlation is a valid one, then it seems sensible that one of the most important questions Project Manager’s should be asking themselves is whether or not they have created the conditions in which the team can make effective decisions. Of the Project Manager’s I talk to few have ever directly considered that question, however once the question is posed most realise that it actually represents one of the most important questions Project Managers should be asking themselves.

Although the exact conditions needed to make effective decisions may vary according to the project and its environment, there are a number of general conditions that need to be present. The following list represents a starting point for having a discussion about what the right conditions might be;

  1. The team needs to have sufficient people with the right level of technical skill and knowledge
  2. The team needs to have sufficient subject matter experts who have an in-depth knowledge of the target business environment in which the product produced by the project will function or exist
  3. All stakeholders need to be engaged and committed to the success of the project
  4. The people involved need to be collaborating with each other effectively
  5. The team needs to have sufficient communications skills for the knowledge and information to be flowing effectively between people
  6. The team needs to have a clear picture and agreement of where they are trying to get to so that they can align their decisions with that goal
  7. The incentives and objectives of the various groups and organizations involved need to be aligned so that groups can work together towards one integrated solution
  8. The team needs to establish and maintain situational awareness of their environment and the many forces and factors that are influencing the team, the product and the environment in which they are working
  9. The needs to have people with sufficient authority to make key decisions actively engaged in the project
  10. The people responsible for making decisions need to have accepted ownership of those decisions and be willing to commit to the decisions once made
  11. Sufficient time to be able to make effective decisions

I’ve been using the list (and a slightly more sophisticated version of the list) above for quite some time now and when used properly it’s proven to be a remarkably powerful tool for assessing the likely chances of success for a project. Where teams can genuinely say that they have those conditions present, effective decisions will generally be made and the chances of success are high. Where one or more of those conditions are missing or serious degraded, then the chances of failure are high.

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