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Important Decision-Making Skills for a Project Manager

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 6/9/2011

Are skills needed just to make a decision? Can’t you just look at the data before you and decide what’s best? In the world of project management, decision-making skills are more of a group of tools that every manager needs to lead. Jean Scheid explores these tools.

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    Skills for Making Effective Decisions

    Decision Making Skills Search for decision-making skills on the Internet and you’ll find more tips, tools, and suggestions than you care to read. Instead of looking at the “skill" itself as a thing you must do or learn, what if you looked at decisions and the tools you can use as a method or process in your projects?

    Fortunately, you’ve found the right article to help you with decision making techniques. Here at Bright Hub, we’ve done the work for you on what works best to help you make the best decisions in every project.

    Image Credit (Freedigitalphotos)

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    Use Processes for Making Decisions

    Making the Best Decisions In every project management methodology, there are steps, phases, and processes an effective leader utilizes to achieve the desired result. In Six Sigma, both DMAIC and DMEDI phases include decision-making skills via milestones achieved throughout the project through analyzing, defining, and improving. In Agile projects, user stories help project managers analyze input in order to make decisions on what outcomes are expected.

    When using 5S best practices, those five Japanese action words, Seiri (Sort), Seiton (Set in Order), Seiso (Shine), Seiketsu (Standardize), and Shitsuke (Sustain) are actually the tools your teams use to stay organized, streamlined and with interjection from your direction; all include decision-making skills at one level or another.

    In a Kaizen blitz or Agile sprint, if the purpose is to continually improve a process, method, or element of a project, shouldn’t these blitzes and sprints also be considered effective steps for making good decisions?

    Consider using these phases or stages of your project that are part of your methodology as a way to help you make better decisions—it really works more than you think.

    Image Credit (Freedigitalphotos)

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    Real Tools That Work

    Leaders can also use project management tools like Pareto charts, mind mapping, and control charts that look at attributes and acceptable variations of project elements.

    When using mind-mapping techniques, part of the process can be brainstorming and troubleshooting sessions to reveal what’s off balance and then make the decisions to correct those imperfect balances.

    Using decision trees in projects involves looking at risks and impacts on the project to help managers make better decisions to avoid or mitigate risks.

    All of these great decision-making tools will work, if you utilize them as they were designed, to achieve the highest level of effectiveness.

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    It’s Always About the Budget

    Balanced Budgets Work Earned value management, cost/benefit analysis, and even simple expense forecasting are great tools project leaders can use to improve decision-making skills.

    If the budget—revenues and costs—offers insight and realities, they are in fact, tools you must utilize to make effective decisions.

    Consider if a cost/benefit analysis was used and revealed that the cost outweighed the benefit, would that not indeed be an important way to help you make the right decision?

    Image Credit: (Freedigitalphotos)

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    Define & Improve Your Skills

    Improve Your Decisions Now that you know it’s possible to utilize project methodology-specific phases or process to help you along with tools that were designed for making effective decisions, you’re ready to start improving your own decision-making skills. So where do you go from here?

    • Using PM Methodology Phases, Stages, or Processes – What if the task at hand is to determine the design of a new milk carton and you’re using the Agile Management Methodology? Here, you take those Agile user stories, share them with all the stakeholders, discuss them, and make the best decision based on those user stories. The same could be said for Six Sigma. If the phases of DMAIC – define, measure, analyze, improve, and control--are being utilized for your milk carton project, your measure, analyze and improve phases all help to determine conflicts, problems, and risks to help you make the right decision on a milk carton design before it’s ever offered as an end product. There are many ways you can use the phases, stages and processes of every methodology to help you make great decisions—try some scenarios here; see what works best for you and your team.
    • Using Evaluation ToolsMind mapping is a great place to start learning how to make decisions. Through brainstorming of the mapping revelations decisions can be made. Risk tools like Pareto and control charts offer insight into what’s at risk and what’s acceptable to help you make more informed decisions. If we take our same milk carton design project, what if you begin with mind mapping on that whiteboard? As the project progresses your map grows larger to help you make correct choices and steer you away from areas that won’t work or offer the desired outcome. These evaluation tools, if used correctly, are the best ways to improve your decision-making skills.
    • Looking at the CashIf it’s all about the budget—why not use some forecasting tools to learn how to decide on the best milk carton design? If a cost/benefit analysis reveals the cost to make the new milk carton outweighs the final benefit—the end-users hate it, or the client says it’s too expensive—isn’t this an effective decision making tool?

    Image Credit: (Freedigitalphotos)

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    Wrapping It Up

    Click on Some Links and Set Goals The best decision-making tools project managers and leaders can obtain are insight and the ability to treat making decisions as an important part of your project. Making good decisions isn’t all that easy if you don’t analyze the problems or tasks at hand before you offer those decisions.

    Only once managers realize that decision making in and of itself must be a process or method that every project requires, will they be able to improve their decision-making skills and become the leader that is respected for wise and risk-free decisions? Try some of the tools mentioned here—clicking on an above link allows you to explore these skills even more. Your only decisions here are what links to click on, and then start to implement and improve the skills you use to make decisions: Easy decisions, so start exploring them here at Bright Hub and learn to brainstorm your way to success.

    Image Credit: (Freedigitalphotos)

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