Group Decisions in Projects

28 March, 2014

As any PMP© will tell you (and any PMP© exam student should tell you) Group Decision-making Techniques are used in several project management processes. It will be a very good PMP© who will be able to recite which processes these are. But they are not hard to guess: Collect Requirements, Estimate Activity Durations, Estimate Costs and the one that is not that obvious, Validate Scope.

For some project managers all this is very theoretical. If your team has no interest in the direction of the project – if they just want to receive their assignments and get on with it, then is there any value in trying to get the group involved in the decision-making process? If you feel that way, then you are not alone. As far back as 1958, the Harvard Business Review was agonizing over what level of authority a manager should exercise. For us project managers, a paper by Tannenbaum and Schmidt makes interesting reading because it describes the factors, or forces that a manager should consider when deciding how to manage decisions in projects..

The first set of factors resides within the project manager. These include the project manager’s value system. This is different from the PMP© code of ethics and professional conduct. This relates to your views on authoritarian versus democratic management – your leadership inclination. This can be influenced by your confidence in your project team – a democratically-inclined project manager can quickly become authoritarian if the project team proves itself unable to cope with making its own decisions. Deep down, it can also be influenced by your feelings of security in an uncertain situation - delegating decision-making makes things less predictable.

The next set of factors is found in the project team members. Have they relatively high needs for independence? Have they a readiness to assume responsibility for decision-making? Some see responsibility as a tribute to their abilities; others see it as buck-passing. How able are individuals on the project team able to cope with ambiguity? Are they interested in the problem and feel that it is important? Do they understand and identify with the organisation’s goals? Have they the knowledge and experience to deal with the problem? Do they expect to take part in the decision-making?

That last question leads us nicely to the factors associated with the project itself and the organization as a whole.  When you have your performance review as a project manager, what types of behaviour are rewarded? Is confidentiality an issue in this project? For instance, many military projects have a strict need-to-know policy and very few have any concept of the big picture. Is the project team effective? PMPs© will remember the forming, storming, norming, performing stages of project team development. How long has the project team been working together? Do they have similar interests and backgrounds? Generally speaking, like-minded people work better together.

Of course, the project itself is a huge factor. There is no point getting the project team involved in a decision where they are totally out of their depth. In some cases, where a lot of data is involved, it might be quicker for one person to work out what the decision should be rather than take the time to explain to the others. This leads us into the last factor: time pressure. Getting the project team involved takes time. The problem has to be explained clearly and the group has to bounce ideas around. There might be a better outcome in the end, but the decision might arrive too late.

In the end, there is no right or wrong approach. If you need to direct, direct; if the project team is up for it and the environment is right, then involve the group in the process. Involving the project team was cited in your PMP© course as good for team building (remember the Develop Project Team process?). It also can raise the level of employee motivation, increase the readiness of project team members to accept change, improve the quality of all managerial decisions, develop teamwork and morale, as well as furthering individual development. But always remember this caveat from the authors: “To provide the individual or the group with greater freedom than they are ready for at any given time may very well tend to generate anxieties and therefore inhibit rather than facilitate the attainment of desired objectives.”

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By Velopi Seamus Collins

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