One of the biggest ticket items in being successful in anything you do is making effective decisions. If you want to go somewhere, you need to decide where you want to go and follow a consistent set of directions. Remember, the most efficient way to get there is in a straight line. Same is true for projects, goals, objectives, dreams….anything you want to do. The challenge is to make an effective decision which will accomplish the objective in the least amount of time and effort and this requires the following:
- Clearly understand the problem you are trying to solve by undertaking the project, task etc. What is it that really needs to be done? Take a bit of time here to thoroughly evaluate the reason you are doing something and don’t just jump because something appears to be “urgent”. This may cause you to have to change course (maybe several times) as you move forward as more information is discovered. While you are busily trying to patch and paint all the water stains in the ceiling, you might not be spending enough time figuring out that there is a leak in the roof. Better to take a little extra time up front and be very clear about what needs to be done and why. Never get busy just for the sake of appearing to be busy; Busy ≠ Productive. Ask the right questions like “what is the best way to ….” And not “why is this so messed up?” or “How will we ever get this done?”
- Clearly define the success criteria; how do you know when you have solved the problem? Where is the finish line/goal post? If you are not clear about this up front, things tend to take on a life of their own and quickly get out of hand. Project manager call this “scope creep” where you just keep doing more and more things but you lost track of why you are doing these and which ones are really important. These are the projects that seem to go on forever and never get done. This is really bad because they do not provide the value needed and they also take resources away from other problems/projects you could be working on.
- Understand the boundaries and constraints; what can you do? What can’t you do? There are some obvious constraints like not breaking laws and policies, then there are natural constraints like basic economics and science, and then there are the cultural norms within any organization. Understand these very clearly up front so you do not run into unintended obstacles along the way which slow you down. It is also important to know the constraints upfront as these are the justification for some actions / decisions and people may forget that an early decision was made not to buy all new computers because of a potential bug in the new operating system which could have compromised the entire network. This information should be at your fingertips so you do not have to go back and relive history to figure out how you got this this point 5 months later.
- Before making a decision, look at all the options you have and their implications (pros and cons, even the obvious ones). Option A is usually “do nothing”. This is a valid decision, but you need to evaluate the pros and cons associated with this decision. It may make sense after you evaluate it, or it may not, but this must a conscious decision with a justification based on real information. Go through the same exercise for all the other options on the table. It is vitally important to understand why some decisions made sense and why some did not. Otherwise someone somewhere at sometime will challenge the original decisions and then all resources which should be working towards the goal will have to stop and go back and revisit the decision. This happens a lot when there are organization changes and new management and it is extremely detrimental to productivity. You need to have the decision-making justification clearly defined and available on a moment’s notice in case you need to re-validate a decision at a later time. Otherwise it’s like driving most of the way to St. Louis, and then someone says “Hey why aren’t you driving to Santa Fe? Turn around and go there”. After some searching and asking around you may figure out that St. Louis was in fact correct all along, but now you have wasted valuable time reconstructing a decision made in the past. Yes objectives might have changed and Santa Fe is now correct, but again if you have the decision criteria at your fingertips this can be figured out sooner rather than later.
- Get feedback from people involved in the project/task before and after a decision is made and use this valuable information to continue to make adjustments along the way. Be sure to continue to get feedback as things progress. Some may not require making adjustments but some may be critical. Like driving to St. Louis, you would continue to monitor road conditions, weather and performance of your car. Based on this information you might decide to take another route to avoid the blizzard ahead. No one person has all the answers. Keep eyes and ears open for valuable feedback from your team. This really helps keep everyone aligned and builds a stronger team who gets better and more effective results.