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  • Writer's pictureAngeline

Clear about your options?

Illustration by Angeline Veeneman, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Project Managers = decision influencers

Project Managers encounter many situations throughout the life of a project where options have to be evaluated and decisions taken. It could be making a decision about what to include in the scope, or having to choose a particular technology to deliver a project, or perhaps selecting an external vendor. Regardless of the scenario, PMs need to analyse a situation, identify and assess options, and make a decision. In theory. Because most of the time, PMs don’t actually get to make the decision and need to secure it from their stakeholders. Hence, it is critical to be able to communicate effectively about choices so that others make the right decision.

Be clear about who makes the decision

Before you know what options to present, you need to know who you’re going to present it to. It may sound obvious but the reality is never so; many projects have complicated governance models with demands for consensus across a large group of people. Whether you have one decision-maker (lucky you) or 10 (sigh), identify upfront who will need to validate a particular decision.

Adapt your style to your audience

Think about your stakeholders’ decision-making style and adapt your communication accordingly. Not all decision-makers have the same approach, so look at how your stakeholders like to operate: do they need lots of details or are they happy to rely on the big picture? Do they want to get involved early in evaluating options or do they expect to just validate recommendations? Do they need review/buy-in from others or can they make the decision independently?

Give people enough (i.e. not too many, not too few) choices

Even in situations where there doesn’t seem to be a lot, it’s always better to offer several choices, even things that you know no-one wants (such as the widely unpopular “do nothing”). Although you shouldn’t overdo it and present unrealistic choices, putting in a “bad” option can actually help you influence your stakeholders in selecting the right one. This may sound a little counterintuitive, but research shows that we don’t always know our own preferences, and are better at picking something from a list if it includes things we don’t like (check out this great TED talk by Dan Ariely on the subject).

Don’t come up with too many options though: this can be overwhelming, and it will actually reflect badly on you: as the PM, you should show you have done the groundwork and sieved through the un-SMART choices to actually enable your stakeholders to make a good, informed decision.

Keep things:

  • simple: keep the message succinct and don’t drown people with tons of background analysis

  • meaningful: show why an option solves a problem

  • well presented: use clear and precise wording and support your message with good visual presentation

  • easy: make the decision-making process easier for your stakeholders by offering recommendations.

Finally, make sure you follow-up on the decision made and communicate it to the rest of the team and other project stakeholders. And don’t forget to update your project scope, budget, schedule and risks & issues log. Business as usual really…


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