Why prompt decision-making is critical to the success of IT projects

By David Bicknell

Research from the US-based IT projects specialist Standish Group suggests latency between decisions is a major contributor to project delays and failures.

“Projects get behind a day at a time. My observation is they get behind because people cannot make decisions. Therefore, it is important to establish a process that enables you to quickly gain the decision information you need,” says Mike Sledge, chief executive of corporate performance company Robbins-Gioia.

There are literally thousands of decisions that have to be made during the life of a project. Standish Group research shows that for every $1,000 in project cost, the organisation will need to make 1.5 decisions. A $1 million project will produce 1,500 decisions, while a $5 million project will have 7,500 decisions. During a typical medium-size ERP system implementation the organisation will have to make more than 10,000 decisions.

“The key reason for making fast decisions has nothing to do with always making right decisions. It has everything to do with being open to mistakes,” says Richard Mark Soley, chairman and CEO of the Object Management Group (OMG). 

Standish Group took the case of two US companies in the same sector that were both implementing customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Both companies were similar in size, number of accounts, and salespeople. They even used the same software package.

Both started to implement a CRM system about four years ago. One finished in six months and the other has still not finished. The key difference was the one that finished in six months had a hard stop and had set up a rapid decision process to reduce decision latency.

Standish Group goes on to say that while the volume of decisions comprising a project can be a problem, it is actually the time that lapses from when an issue first arises until a decision is made that causes most difficulties.

For example, if the average decision latency is only one-hour, then the added decision time to a $1 million project is six months (1,500 decisions = 1,500 hours). On the other hand, if the project team can cut the latency time in half, it adds only three months to the project time (1,500 decisions = 750 hours).

With this insight into the corrosive effect of slow decision-making on project success, and after years of research in project management performance, the Standish Group decided to develop The Dezider, a real-time information decision support solution to help organisations cut decision-making time in half through greater stakeholder participation and more information.

The intention behind The Dezider is to connect individuals with their co-workers, stakeholders, peers, superiors, friends, and family as an aid to decision-making.

One way to increase decision velocity, decrease latency, and increase people’s participation is to simplify large issues by breaking them into smaller issues and decisions. (You may recognise something of an Agile-like approach to decision-making here)

The Dezider enables the ability to create a series of minor or micro issues and to construct a stream of responses to achieve quicker, easier, and more comprehensive answers. Each of these micro issues can then be directed to the proper level, role, and/or responsible person(s).

What usually happens in organisations is that people are busy doing their main jobs and often put off project tasks such as participating in project decisions. The Dezider offers a feature that gently reminds project participants that they have an outstanding issue and the team is waiting for their response.

Another feature within Dezider provides the ability to match the type of decision with the roles of the people making the decisions. For example, a technical decision should have a technical person making the decision. On the other hand, a business decision should have a business person making the decision.

There are more details about the impact of decision-making on projects, and about The Dezider on the Standish Group blog. Standish Group is probably best known for its Chaos research into project management leadership and best practices.

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