Making Decisions in Project Management

The success or failure of a project – and possibly the project manager – can be described by three words: decisions, decisions, and decisions.  All project managers have to make decisions, but some are better at it than others.

What some people either do not realize, or perhaps refuse to realize, is that almost all decision-making has a built-in conflict.  Simply stated, should you make a decision that is in your personal best interest or the best interest of the project? The company might want you to make project decisions based upon what’s best for them (namely image, reputation, quality, strategic focus or interfacing with the client in a moral and ethical manner), but what if a decision made in the company’s best interest is in conflict with your personal values of ambition, innovation, creativity, promotion and advancement? Business schools have been discussing this dilemma for decades.

As a project manager, the conflict is more complex.  You are also faced with deciding what is in the best interest of the team members, and their interests can be in conflict with yours, as well as the interests of the company. As an example, consider the following situation:

You are working on a project where the completion date has slipped by two weeks and you have very little hope that a recovery is possible. The customer is quite unhappy with the situation and has expressed their displeasure to both you and your senior management.

Then a natural disaster occurs in a town nearby, and a large portion of your project team request to take a week or two off from work (using their own vacation time) to help fellow church members salvage what’s left of their homes and recover belongings. The functional managers, bless their hearts, have told the workers that the decision rests with the project manager because of the impact on the project. The decision to let them go is neither in your best interest, nor the project’s best interest. If you allow them to leave, you could end up a month behind schedule and the customer may become violently upset. Should you let the workers go?

I know how difficult it is to make these types of decisions because this situation is factual and happened to me. I told the workers that they could go and that I would explain everything to the client. I also told the workers that I hoped I would still be the project manager when they returned, but would be updating my resume just in case. The rationale for my decision was simple; I believed that the workers would go regardless of what I said. They simply were asking for my blessing.

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