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How to Make a Killer Project Decision on the Spot

~ By Brad Egeland

Feet in red trainers standing by the word decisions

As project managers, we're often put in positions where we must make critical project decisions on the spot. We find ourselves making these types of decisions under pressure and with little to no information and little to no input from key stakeholders. They just aren't available when they're needed - or they have even less information than we do.

Here's my three step process to step through making that best possible decision on the spot with little to no help or extra information from any stakeholders:

1. Verify the Need

First, do what you can quickly to verify the need. Have you ever heard the phrase, "Procrastination on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part"? What about the very similar one, "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part"? Be sure you aren't taking care of someone else's emergency that you really don't need to be involved in or that really won't adversely affect the project or that doesn't really need to be handled TODAY. Once you verify the need…then we move on.

2. Check for Any Nearby Input Options

You have whatever information you've been given on the spot and whatever background or history info you have on the subject when it's time to make the decision. Essentially, you're a jack-of-all-trades subject matter expert (SME) on your project. You know what you know at the time. If there is anyone - anyone at all - who may be reachable quickly that could provide a little more information, contact that person or persons. It's worth a try when a few extra seconds might get you the few morsels of information that will help you make a slightly better decision. And if there's definitely no one, then move on.

3. Do It With Confidence - no matter what

Finally, no matter what, you're the project manager and the one in charge. If a decision absolutely has to be made and you are the one that has the most information at this moment and the only one available, then you have to be able to make it. Be confident. Exude confidence. Proceed with your decision.

Take 5, 10, 15 or 60 minutes if you must - and if time allows - but make the decision with confidence and go forth. Even if find out you made the wrong decision, you'll probably learn from it. Plus, you'll know you made the best choice you could given what you had available to you. I'm not saying you won't get fired, but at least you'll probably be admired.

Summary & Call for Input

Have you ever been in this situation before? If not, you probably will be at some point if you're managing complex projects of any significant size. Either way, always wait on decisions that can wait so that you can involve the right stakeholders that should be involved in such a decision. But if that's not possible, then that's reality. You must proceed anyway.

For me, I once had to make a fast call to cancel a planning phase of a huge technical solution my business analyst and I were working on with the project client. It was quickly turning into a disaster and the client needed training before they could really help us define requirements…which was critical on this project.

So I made that call…and we all survived. Sure, it was a rough day going through the process of shutting the project down for a while and getting the change order in place to make all that happen. But, again, we all survived - and so will you.

Please share if you've had a similar experience - let's discuss.


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