The central idea of "a large scale, complex, decentralized, decision-making activity" provides an anchor point for debate but, much like the rings in an onion, there are further layers to the problem. I refer to the next layer as the six great challenges and although the challenges can be expressed in very simple terms, in practice they are a considerable challenge. The six great challenges are:
- Knowing what decisions need to be made and when
- Identifying optimal choices for each decision
- Managing the complexity inherent in the sheer number of decisions needing to be made
- Recognizing and managing the uncertainties inherent in the decisions
- Maintaining the integrity of the whole, i.e. ensuring the compatibility and alignment of all of the decisions made, and
- Detecting and eliminating errors in the decisions made
Those six elements alone represent a considerable challenge, but beyond the six great challenges is an even broader context within which project related decisions are made. While it would be comforting to think that all decisions are made in a fully rational and informed way, in practice many other dynamics influence the way decisions are made. On an individual basis, there are such diverse factors as cognitive biases, training, prior experiences, interpersonal relationships and personality type. All these can shape the decisions made.
In the corporate context, factors such as politics, organizational goals,
both spoken and unspoken, and the structure of incentives within the organization
can also influence the choices that get made. Of course, project factors such
as the amount of schedule or budget pressure the team is working under also
affect decision-making. When all these are considered together, it becomes
clear that the domain within which decisions are made is an extremely complex
one and that complexity brings with it the ever-present danger of project failure.