Decision Making


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Our four part guide to the Attributes of the Effective Program Manager:

Part 1 of 4: The Program Manager’s Role
Part 2 of 4: Relationship Building
Part 3 of 4: Effective Questioning
Part 4 of 4: Decision Making

Part 4 of 4: Decision Making

Effective decision making is a trait all successful program managers possess. Once again, like a lot of traits needed for program success, decision making is a process that affects program culture. Many organizations fail or stumble because it takes too long for personnel to get the decisions they need. Program managers not only must resolve conflicts quickly but also must make timely decisions with regard to strategy and tactical implications that affect the program. Causes for delay in decision making include the following:

  • A chaotic environment in which the personnel needing a decision have to struggle to get on the decision maker’s calendar.
  • A lack of clear criteria for when the decision needs to be escalated. The decision maker then spends too much time on decisions that should be made at lower levels, and decisions that should be escalated remain hidden too long.
  • Lack of accountability.

Problems are naturally a part of every program, and the unexpected occasionally happens. A program manager should not be surprised when any of these things occur and should block out time on his or her calendar daily to handle these unexpected events. Typically, early morning and late afternoon are the best times for decision making. Why? Because now you have two windows of opportunity daily in which decisions can be made.

As a program manager, you must establish a culture in which decisions get made quickly and at the appropriate level. This requires clear lines of accountability and escalation processes to bubble up decisions to the appropriate level. In an aggressive decision approach, all the data the decision maker would need are typically not available. The alternative of waiting for information is tempting, but often the information is slower to arrive than anticipated, and when it does arrive, it may just confirm the original decision plan.

More often than not, you are better off making decisions when you have most of the data instead of waiting until you have all the data.

Making decisions quickly also means that some decisions will not be correct. This is okay as long as you rapidly rectify the incorrect decisions. In fact, organizations that expect nearly perfect decisions or that are overly critical of bad decisions typically have ineffective cultures. Ultimately, expecting perfection or being overly critical creates hesitancy on the part of those in the organization about their ability to make decisions and slows down progress tremendously.

A program culture that does not criticize bad decisions but chooses to learn from them and encourages participants to continue to be aggressive is usually much more productive. I once heard a program manager say, “I tell my project managers that if they make three of four decisions correctly, they are performing well. We must always reexamine our decisions, because one of four may be incorrect. When we find it quickly, we can turn it around with minimum impact. I certainly don’t want people to be waiting around for perfection. Waiting for perfection causes more bad circumstances and delays than the imperfection of bad decisions.”

Ultimately, all program managers have significant short- and long-term challenges. If you ignore the long-term challenges of improving project management processes and culture, the short term challenges increase in number and intensity. Therefore, a good program manager embraces his or her role and applies leadership to address short-term challenges while concurrently and continually leading the organization down a path of process and culture improvement.

Our series is about the attributes of effective program managers. Another attribute is the integration of technology to the program management process. WorkOtter helps make your program management effective by implementing and managing your program proccesses. Get a demo of WorkOtter and see how we can make your program management effective.

“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.