The Project Management Institute (PMI) encourages its members to advance the profession. One of the ways to do this is by helping others increase their project management skills. The target audiences for this blog are professional PM’s early in their careers as well as those who manage projects but are not PM’s by title or trade. I will be posting every week or so, offering practical tips and tools on the full range of project management topics. I hope you will find this useful and help you advance your career.
The “Building Blocks” series of posts will help you identify key prerequisites that must be in place before you begin your project. Whether you are the Project Manager from the start of the project, or taking over someone else’s already started project, make sure these Critical Success Factors are in place.
There are certain fundamentals that need to be in place to increase the probability of project success. The first of these is to have an active and committed Business Sponsor. The Business Sponsor is the person (or persons) who initiated the project and authored the Business Case. The primary roles of the Business Sponsor are to provide funding, help clear obstacles to success, provide resources and make key decisions.
It is surprising how many projects (IT projects especially) proceed without this key building block. The thinking is that the merit of the project itself will drive it to successful conclusion. This is a huge mistake. Projects like this will typically encounter a lack of cooperation from the business units as their priorities do not match the priorities of those driving the project. It is OK for IT to get the ball rolling, but before the project is officially approved, the Business Sponsor must be identified and take ownership.
The Business Sponsor will play a key role in your Organizational Change Management Plan. Their responsibilities will include:
- Being the “Face” of the project communicating directly with employees and management
- Participating actively and visibly throughout the project
- Building a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance – identify other Executives who will Champion the change
In the preceding series of posts, I presented a process I use for making key decisions. Now I will present a brief summary of those posts.
- We struggle with some decisions because…
- There are too many choices
- The apparent choices are all bad
- The apparent choices seem all equally good
- Loss Aversion – we fear risking something we have for something we want
- Fear of being wrong
- Fear of being criticized
- Poor decision making process results in…
- Unintended consequences
- Good decision making process will…
- Eliminate decision paralysis
- Reduce stress
- Keep you moving forward
- Eliminate regret
- Look at decisions as a “portfolio” instead of isolated events
- The process in 8 steps…
- Begin with the end in mind – know your desired outcomes and how you will measure success
- Analyze your alternatives – there may be more than you think!
- Identify and mitigate risks
- Distance yourself from short-term emotion
- Create contingency plans
- Make the decision
- Evaluate the outcomes
- Evaluate the process
Try using the process on your next key decision. Tweak it as needed for your specific circumstances. Leave some comments on this post as to what worked and what didn’t.
For the eighth and final step in the decision making process you will evaluate the process itself. You do this in the spirit of continuous process improvement. This will improve your future decision making process and outcomes.
Here are some questions to ask yourself regarding your process:
- For good outcomes:
- What process steps were the most useful?
- What could you have done to make the good outcomes even better?
- For negative outcomes:
- Did the process fail or was it circumstances beyond your control?
- Did you skip steps?
- Were there some steps you did not give sufficient time and energy?
- Did you anticipate and plan for this negative outcome? If not, what would you have done different?
The next post will be the final post in the Decision Making series and I will summarize and give you some additional thoughts on the topic.
At an appropriate point in time after you have made the decision, you should evaluate the outcomes as part of a program of continuous improvement in the decision making process. Here are the steps to take:
- Revisit the “measures of success” you defined in the first step in the process. In that step, you determined what success would look like and how you would measure success. This is the time to take those measurements.
- Evaluate the “degree of success” for each measure. Not all of your success criteria will be a binary “yes or no”. Often you will have achieved some measure of success but perhaps not all you targeted. This is a key input to the next step.
- Determine if additional activity, time or resources will increase your degree of success. This is a key decision point. You don’t want to “throw good money and time after bad” hoping to succeed. You will need to decide if the calculated risk of continuing to invest more in the decision is worth it to you. Employ the same decision making methodology for this as used in the original decision.
In the next post I will present the final step in the 8 step process, where you evaluate the process itself to help you improve your future decisions.
At this point you have created a vision of the end result, analyzed your alternatives, identified and mitigated your risks, made contingency plans and distanced yourself from short-term emotions. You should also understand the constraints that limit your choices (e.g. “I can’t move from my current home”).
It is now time to make the decision. You will compare all of your alternatives, with an understanding of the range of outcomes and risks, and make and commit to a decision with confidence. There will be no need to look back with regret, no matter the result, because your process was sound and you made the best call based on the information available to you.
At this point you should prepare a timeline of major milestones. These are significant points in time where something (good or otherwise) should have happened by then and you will use those milestones as opportunities to evaluate your decision and make course corrections if necessary.
Once you have identified your most important risks the next step is to make sure you have at least one contingency plan (aka “Plan B”) for every risk. These are alternate plans you will use in case the risk occurs despite your efforts to mitigate. For example, if you are buying a new home and expect to close on a certain date, you should have contingency plans for living arrangements and storage in case the date moves out.
Here are a few ideas to help you identify the kinds of contingency plans you may need:
- Conduct a “pre-mortem” – This is a look into the future where you ask yourself “My decision failed – what were the causes?” Was it lack of time, money, or support? Were you being too ambitious?
- Conduct a “pre-parade” – Ask yourself “My decision was wildly successful – what were the reasons?” Brainstorming the answers to this question will help you avoid problems and identify ways to ensure success.
- Set a milestone – This is a point in time where you will evaluate your efforts and decide to carry on, make a course correction, or stop altogether. This will prevent you from falling into the “sunk cost” trap (Where you continue with a bad investment in time or money simply because you already have invested so much).
- Be prepared for unexpected success – Your endeavor may be more successful sooner than you anticipated. This might mean more of your time and money to keep up. Be prepared in advance to react quickly.
We are all human and emotions can play a part in any decisions we make. However, emotions can sometimes cause us to make decisions against our own best interests. For example, a pro athlete claims his current team made him an “insulting” offer only to find when he reaches free agency that no other team will pay him nearly as much. In this post I will state some techniques that will help you combat this effect.
One technique to use is to first think about potential “undesired outcomes” of your decision. As an example, think about a time you received a nasty email from a co-worker. Your emotions tell you to lash out and immediately respond in kind. Stop and think: what are the undesired outcomes? You are trading a few seconds of self-satisfaction over your clever response for a damaged relationship and an escalating flame war. Think before acting!
Another technique is to pretend you have made the desired decision. How will you feel about it 10 minutes from now? How about 10 days from now? Ten months from now?
My favorite technique for removing short-term emotion is asking yourself “If this was my best friend confronted with this decision, what would I advise them to do?” This works remarkably well and will help you make cool, logical decisions.
There is also a psychological factor at play in making decisions. It is called “loss aversion”. This is the tendency to feel more pain for losses than joy in gains (many sports fans will tell you that having their team lose always feels worse than the joys of victory). It can prevent you from taking calculated risks that would be in your favor. Be aware when this factor is in play and remove it from the decision making process.
The game show “Deal or No Deal” is a very good way to exercise your own decision making process vs. the on-show contestant. For example, if there were these 3 prizes left: $1, $5, $1 million dollars, and the Banker offered you $200,000, would you take the offer or take your chances and open another case?
You would weigh these two things: (1) the expected payout is about $333,000 (add the 3 prizes and divide by 3); (2) You have only a 33% chance at beating the $200,000 offer. Option 1 is better if you had multiple chances or “do-overs”; Option 2 in this case is a better way to beat the odds if you have only one chance. You would walk away with $200,000 more than when you started, with no regrets even if your case contained the $1 million prize.
In your daily life, take the opportunity to exercise the decision making techniques I have stated above and you will improve your overall outcomes,