Decisions are part of our daily lives: what time do I need to wake up? what will I eat for lunch? which college will I go to? What? where? when? who? There are a lot of questions that we will naturally come up with an answer for(eventually). But what happens if by choice or not, we make these decisions as part of our job? And what happens if we’re deciding not only for ourselves, but for a bigger goal like a client, company or the success of “the future”. Well that’s part of the job of a Project Manager: to take part of this responsibility of making the right decisions.

Continuing the story that our new BlogAvenger Roberto well explained on his blog, risk management is a fundamental part of a project: that superpower or sixth sense of “foreseeing the future”, or at least trying to predict it. Now, what should we do when this risk (positive or negative) is knocking at our door? Well, it means that Murphy is on the other side of the door and we might have to make some decisions that will define the next steps.

  • Objectives: What is the overall goal (ie. Achieving something, postponing it)
  • Circumstances: Are you in a good position to make changes?
  • Resources or tools: Are there enough resources to achieve that goal?
  • Time: Is the time fixed? Is it realistic to achieve the goal in that time?
  • Effort: Is focusing the team effort on this goal worth the investment?

But despite what you may think, not only information is needed to decide "the right thing". Imagine that you searched for and obtained mountains of information, analyzed the data and spent days organizing it. You put together an amazing presentation filled with facts and graphs to explain to the client why the app they’ve had on their head for years is not intuitive for the users. Is it possible that the client will say:  “Based on your facts and amazing slides, I’m going to change my way of thinking right now. Anything else you need from me?” No. That’s not what will happen at all.

Something that I have learned throughout my career as a project manager is that it’s not just the scopes, costs, and facts that are important but also the people involved in the project must be considered in order to make the right decisions. You should educate yourself to understand and realize that we are not machines; that all the actions that we see on the outside are filtered by a unique perspective inside each person and even if we are looking at the same elephant, we might be understanding just part of it. Therefore, let me share with you some things that I have learned:

Be aware of yourself, of other people, the situation and the environment.

You might be surprised at how much written, verbal and non-verbal information exists around you. Let's start with yourself. Identify how a situation makes you feel, how tired you are, with how much positivity and strength you woke up with today to share with your team. The people around you: what are they telling you? what are they not telling you? What are they trying to communicate with their words, tone of voice and gestures? And regarding the environment, even what day of the week it is, is more than important.

Seek to have clear communication.

This means: be sure that the idea that you have on your mind is the same idea the other people have on theirs. To achieve this you might need to use tools such as writing, images, graphs and verbal communication to reach visual, auditory or kinesthetic types of learning. I know that it doesn’t sound as simple, it definitely takes a lot of work, but this is really important. Without proper communication and understanding, no matter how viable the solution or plan may be, it can fall into assumptions and lead to misunderstandings in expectations.

Be Flexible

You don’t own the absolute truth nor can you foresee the whole possibilities ahead, that’s why you must have flexibility to change your mind according to what the team or the client is feeling. We humans are erratic and emotional. From time to time we change our mind in the middle of the road and basically this is the biggest cause of things not going according to plan. Act according to it and make some decisions to correct the course, so please hear everything that your team or the client have to say. An IMPORTANT note here is: ethics and morals are non-negotiable. The art of flexibility is knowing when to adapt and when not to.

Be diplomatic

What should you do if you completely disagree with the point of view of others? Well, diplomacy is a skill you might have to reinforce. Being a good project manager is not measured by if there is conflict or not in the project. You have the same right to express yourself and give your point of view on why you think that a certain approach is not helping the project. Conflict will always exist since you are making decisions and some things that you're making should be different than what’s been there before. As a PM you will be assessed on what you do when an inevitable decision is needed: Do you freeze? Do you run the other direction? Do you throw your hands up and say “this is really hard!”? or do you figure it out. Diplomacy here is handling the communication and considering the reactions to the conflict from the different people such as rational, emotional and political. A lot of emotional intelligence is needed here btw.

Make a whole body decision

In order to decide what to decide, you should make a whole body decision. Imagine yourself in a path with two roads: one to the left and one to the right. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself going  to the left, you might have a vision of yourself on a really difficult road with many obstacles, and on the opposite side you might see a clear path. Whatever you had imagined you might have had a hunch of one of them; and the more you think about it, the more this idea will enforce your decision about it, and therefore you will have your answer on which path you should choose. In other words, to decide how to act and react, listen to your brain (frontal cortex specifically) but also listen to your heart and your gut.

Be persistent

It should be noted that what I’m describing are not rules and each person will find the best way to do project management as it most aligns with their personality; and it will be a learning path with mistakes and successes. But what doesn’t change is that you must be persistent. But with care, some people are persistently wrong and you must avoid it. You should know when to push, know when to sprint and know when to back off. Each change has its own rhythm and you’ll need to know how to play that. Otherwise you actually might be making things wrong if you are pushing too hard.

Quite a journey, right? This human part of project management, even if it is briefly mentioned in some of the official PM bibliography (from my point of view, I think it deserves its own official section) as it is something that one definitely comes across in practice and is an important part of the information needed to make the right decisions to align the project.

In conclusion, I would like to clarify something, this is still a job and we have to accomplish some goals and some deadlines, but I don’t want you to get me wrong: although we are not robots and there is a human nature in our actions, there must always be that balance (as the wise Thanos said). The objectives and dates must still be met, but we can meet those goals and be more productive and efficient if we all have that space for expression and communication in which we can listen, be heard and reach an agreement on the matter.

Last but not least, remember each member of the team has a role and even if a task of your role is to make decisions, don’t carry the whole world on your shoulders; some decisions should be taken as a group. In some of the cases you might need help to execute some decisions, so leave your pride behind and be always surrounded by the people inside or outside your team that can help you to make that decision and have the power to make it into reality.