The Executive Decision – When timely is better than Right?

You have heard the clichés before: ‘Proceed until apprehended’; ‘better 95% correct now than 100% correct later’; ‘ask for forgiveness later instead of asking for permission now’, etc. Much of this blog is dedicated to that delicate balance many project managers must find between complete democracy and total dictatorship, and today I want to highlight the value in a just, yet decisive project manager.

In my mind, what separates this decisive leader from a micro-managing, over-controlling, dictator of a PM is their timing. It’s not that you can’t be involved to a degree in many decisions or even involved in most the process leading up to each decision. In fact, to the extent that you are able to delegate decision making authority, you should do so yet remain abreast of their progress. However, it is important to pick your moments for input. Some key thoughts to summarize:

–          Listen First – Speak Last: give your team an opportunity to explain themselves thoroughly without weighing in with your position through comment or body language. If you like the direction they are headed, commend them and praise them. If not, subtly seek to guide it in a different direction. Your position may be different, but it rarely makes theirs wrong.

–          Empower your decision makers – And Honor that Commitment to Them: PM’s will often describe their efforts to empower their team members to proceed autonomously thereby improving morale and distributing tasks. Those PM’s then need to walk the walk. If you told your discipline lead that it is their call, you better just make sure they make that call in a timely fashion. You have abdicated this decision and reserve only the most infrequent veto authority.

–          Schedule is your Gospel – Make sure it is Clear:  When managing these decisions, whether they fall on your desk or a team members’, let the project schedule drive the bottom line. This may provide you with a scapegoat of sorts when making that Executive Decision when others appear to be deadlocked. The project must move forward and you are the ultimate arbiter. When the time is up, if the decision hasn’t been made, you will make it. Setting these expectations up front as you delegate decision making will keep you on solid ground at crunch time.

–          SELL IT!:  A good decision now truly is better than a great decision later in many, many instances. Perhaps it is just my personal style, but when you have followed the above steps; sat back and listened to your team first, let your discipline leaders lead, and set clear expectation on schedule, it is now your call. Make it, and make it with just the right blend of humility and conviction.

Remember always, you may not be right, but you will own your decisions, value your teams’ input and make a just and timely decision when it is necessary. That is why you are the project manager. If you follow these steps it will help you to earn your teams’ respect in this role.

What elements of just and appropriate executive decision making have I left out? Please share your thoughts with us.


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