Accelerating Implementation is a Decision Dilemma

How many decisions does it take to make a project?    Thousands?  Millions?  The actual answer is much more as you visualize all the strategic decisions cascading down into the individual choices that drive daily actions.  Add the growing complexity the global economic downturn has added to the mix and it’s no wonder that PMs and business leaders everywhere are struggling with executing plans that deliver predictable results.  But, some interesting new research from the field of neuroscience is providing new insights into this age old problem.  Let’s explore the challenges that are undermining our efforts to accelerate the speed of decision implementation.

The challenge PMs are facing shows up in some interesting survey results.  Ohio State research highlights that “more than 50% of decisions fail ; they are quickly abandoned, only partially implemented or never adopted at all”.  Ouch!  This number isn’t surprising when you see a Fast Company survey indicating that “almost 90% of businesspeople say there is no common approach or common criteria for making decisions where they work”.    Fortunately for us, project managers tend to have more process discipline, so surely we are better than average.   Unfortunately, our analytically driven processes don’t always take the less tangible human elements into consideration, leaving us without the buy-in needed for fast implementation.  There are 3 key challenges still undermining our best efforts to put good decisions into action.

  1. Individual thinking – the evolving field of neuroscience has shed new light on the processing capabilities of the pre-frontal cortex (where logical decision making happens).  Its small capacity (only 4% of the brain mass), intensive energy consumption (thinking tires you out, doesn’t it?) and ability to be “switched off” by emotions (do you make good decisions when angry?) makes it a limited resource when conditions aren’t ideal.
  2. Team processes – time constraints combined with task overload leads to subtle shortcuts in decision making processes which end up having profound impacts on performance.  Getting “buy-in” has more to do with involvement in the process (sense of engagement) than the resulting logic of why the decision was made.
  3. Company culture – what gets the most attention (especially if it’s measured) is what gets reinforced.   The focus on short term results, individual performance (what is your performance review based on?) and lack of clear priorities (everything is our top priority) is sending mixed messages to individuals which leads to increased conflict in lower level decisions.

This blog series will address some solutions to overcoming these three challenges to ensure your team is systematically making decisions that align with your project priorities.  Our focus will be on how to drive the customer driven and strategic decisions down into the weekly, daily and hourly decisions that are at the heart of “execution”.  We’ll discuss the linkage between the human brain and processes and suggest solutions for making group decisions during team meetings and the more elusive reflexive decisions that individuals make in the moment throughout each day.

Our goal is to provide some simple strategies that any project manager can begin to embed in their meetings and communication plan to SHIFT the way decisions are made without creating a big uproar.  The result will be faster implementation of decisions made.

Jeff Richardson


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