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Project managers do not spend enough time thinking about quality or impact of their decisions


Project managers do not spend enough time thinking about the quality or the impact of their decisions and very little training is available.

That is one of the perspectives explored in a new book, Advances in Project Management, published by Gower, which brings together many leading authorities on topics that are increasingly relevant to the successful delivery and management of projects.

Making good and informed decisions is increasingly recognised as a key competence that both defines and underpins many aspects of modern management and leadership. Indeed many researchers have concluded that management and leadership are fundamentally about making good decisions.

But what about when that decision is bound by a set of constraints – as experienced by today’s project managers often operating in complex, dynamic, novel and uncertain situations.

Projects are often depicted as short-term engagements. In such temporary environments, decisions often have to be made in speedy fashion.

The implication is: that decision makers do not have sufficient time to analyse and review all the options; that only partial information can be gathered; and, that part of the context will not and cannot be explicitly stated and understood.

The importance of good decision making, and having the right information to make an informed decision cannot therefore be overestimated.

This view is supported by the authors of Advances in Project Management, who reason that one of the reasons projects continue to fail at an alarming rate is the lack of project capability – knowledge and experience – further up the management chain, among strategy and senior decision makers.

But there is a sea change coming. That change will affect the way projects are perceived, led and governed, particularly in the context of the wider organisation to which they belong; whether that is in the public, private or not-for profit sectors.

As we expand the scope and horizon of projects and consider long term implications, ethical considerations, environmental impact and societal legacy, we enter a world which involves greater complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty and volatility and requires new ways of rationalising, deliberating and conducting trade-offs.

Ultimately, reflective thinking and active engagement will pave the way to developing a new understanding, and a healthier appreciation, of the role of decision making in professional practice, which in turn will highlight the crucial impact of rapid and effective decision making in managing, leading, directing and guiding complex projects.


Professor Darren Dalcher is editor of Advances in Project Management, published by Gower. APM members can claim exclusive discounts on Gower titles, click here for more details.

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  1. Tim Lyons
    Tim Lyons 07 November 2014, 05:01 PM

    Darren you are spot on about little training being available.  When I researched my Masters dissertation "The decision making strategies of expert project managers" I found that there was little help for PMs on HOW to make decisions, though seemingly unending advice (including within APM's BoK and other publications) on WHAT things they need to decide.My findings included that more experienced PMs trusted their gut reactions more extensively, which is hardly surprising as their experience base was wider and deeper, and patterns across a larger number of decisions were easier to discern. When the stakes are high, novice PMs generally preferred to go by the book, even if this resulted in failure - in some part due to reputational anxiety. Of course taken to the extreme this tends to produce more predictable results - less risk, but correspondingly fewer opportunities too.Very little is written about courage in making project decisions, though in my experience this is one of the characteristics that marks out true project leaders. And of course such leaders do not often flourish in company cultures where tight conformance to process is demanded, or where failure is seen as a terminal blame condition, instead of what it is, which is feedback.

  2. Ian Richardson
    Ian Richardson 03 November 2014, 07:42 PM

    Darren, you highlight the importance of decision making in 'strategy and senior decision makers' (owners and sponsors) ~ flawed thinking pre-project often commits a project to failure.You identify the current context for any programes as being 'complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty and volatility and requires new ways of rationalising, deliberating and conducting trade-offs'.  I would like to draw your attention to a book which coulld be an adjunct to yours and published by Gower ~ Validating Strategies by Phil Driver www.openstrategies.com.  This identifies a simple approach that reduces flawed thinking (and propensity to fail) and provide an excellent comunication tool to engage with collaborating owners and sponsors.@i2rich

  3. David MacLeod
    David MacLeod 30 October 2014, 03:52 PM

    Darren - your book sounds like a valuable read so I'll get a copy.You could have shortened the title to simply be 'Project managers do not spend enough time thinking ..."!Kind regards,David