Help Your Stakeholders Make Project Decisions

Project teams often utilize a number of strategies when making difficult or high-impact decisions. Communication channels, workflows, the use of external experts, even the Project Team’s reporting structure—they all play a role in helping PMP®s evaluate the available options and choose the best possible solution. It’s a system project teams refine as their portfolio matures and the organization evolves, but it’s generally a well-orchestrated process that produces good results.

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While these internal decision-making skills have been finely honed, one area that may offer opportunities for improvement is when Project Teams are called upon to assist stakeholders in making important decisions. The scenarios vary depending on the type of project, but stakeholders could sometimes be responsible for choices related to locations and layouts, furnishings, equipment, software design, branding, specifics around the handling of work disruptions, and other initiatives. These are occasionally difficult decisions for them to make and they’re likely to turn to the project office for help.

With just a few shifts in the approach, many of the best practices PMP®s use to arrive at the right conclusions can also be leveraged to give stakeholders a strong footing in making their own decisions.

Outline each of the options. Because stakeholders rarely have access to all the data held by the project office, it’s critical that PMP®s provide them with enough information so they can make an informed decision. From end users to sponsors, the range of options that exist in any given situation may not always be apparent, making the Project Team’s knowledge about the various solutions extremely important. Offer information that’s easy to understand and provide additional details or background data where necessary so everyone can familiarize themselves with the options they must weigh in making the decision.

Facilitate access to experts. It’s often helpful for stakeholders to ask questions directly of the experts when it comes to complex decisions. Consider bringing in a vendor if equipment or materials are under consideration, or connect end users with a workflow specialist if their protocols or practices will change as a result of their decision. This strategy ensures that stakeholders have enough reliable information on hand they need to make the best choice. It also saves the project team time as they won’t be stuck passing messages between stakeholders and experts. An additional advantage is that it puts the Project Team in a position to allow outside experts to provide key insight—an important benefit if the issue is contentious amongst stakeholders or politically charged within the organization.

Discuss the consequences of the decision. What are the potential negative impacts the project is likely to experience if a particular option is or is not chosen? Can a decision be modified or possibly changed later in the project’s lifecycle if the results are lackluster? End users probably aren’t in a position to fully understand the trickle-down effects their decision could have across other areas of the project, so help them see where additional impacts might occur later. These pitfalls probably aren’t all doom and gloom, but it’s prudent that they still be included in the metrics and criteria stakeholders use to make their final decision.

Set a timeframe. Stakeholders may not be accustomed to being in a position where their decisions could impact individuals in other departments. If end users are assisting in the selection of a piece of equipment or the layout of a work area, for example, their input may have far-reaching consequences. To ensure stakeholders don’t become overwhelmed with the responsibility, work with them to define a timeframe for each step of the decision-making process and help them stick to the plan.