We venture to suggest that this book, Project Decisions: The Art and Science, by authors Lev Virine & Michael Trumper, published in 2008, is different. It has been said that an inordinate amount of a project manager's time, perhaps 70 to 80%, is taken up with communication. And a large part of that time is involved in decision-making. The majority are perhaps routine day-to-day decisions reflective of the requirements of sound project leadership, but a significant few will be major, strategic and complex challenges that defy our typical gut-feel-based-on-our-past-experience type responses. Authors Lev Virine and Michael Trumper tell us that the answer to this dilemma is structured decision analysis ("SDA"). In fact the authors go further and state that while most of us think we are good at making decisions, which may be true, for the most part the decisions we make are poor ones.
We gave our readers a taste of the sort of challenges that project managers
face when, back in July 2008, we published Testing
Your Judgment in Making Decisions, a set of 10 questions extracted from
the front of this book. If you are anything like us, our results were a miserable
failure compared to the optimum answers established by rigorous SDA. However,
the set of ten questions are general and typical, so that it is clear that SDA
can be useful at any time, not just for big problems on large complex projects.
Why is project decision-making in particular so complicated and fraught with error? Because, according to the authors:
- Most problems in project management involve multiple objectives.
- Project managers deal with uncertainties and predicting the future is not an easy task.
- Project management problems can be complex and the number of alternatives you face in managing a project can be significant.
- Most projects include multiple stakeholders, each with different objectives and preferences.
To tackle such decisions there are, in general, three approaches:
- The intuitive approach: After a period of reflection, the project manager selects the option that "feels" best.
- The advocacy-based approach: The project manager states the problem and asks team members to perform an evaluation, or at least give their opinion. This is the most common way that decisions are made in most organizations. Incidentally, if the manager does not like the response, it is not unusual for the manager to call for a rethink!
- The decision analysis approach: In this case, choices are made based more on the results of analysis and less on the intuition of the decision-maker.
The decision analysis approach entails a logical analysis of a correctly structured problem, identification of creative alternatives based on reliable information, implementation of the selective alternative, and an evaluation of the results. Thus the process includes four major phases:
- Decision framing, or structuring the problem
- Modeling the alternatives
- Quantitative analysis
- Implementing, monitoring, and a review of the decisions made
Readers familiar with the Project Risk Management knowledge area as described in the Project Management Institute's Project Management body of Knowledge will instantly recognize the similarity. However, the authors hasten to point out that decision analysis is not only dependent on logic and mathematics, but also on psychology for which the authors describe many useful tools. This book introduces the reader to these tools and the extensive information available within SDA.
This raises the interesting question of whether SDA should be incorporated into PMI's Project Risk Management; or Human Resources Management; or Communications Management or even into Cost or Time Management since it involves estimating? Or should it be a new and separate knowledge area altogether? Further, it should be mentioned here that SDA is equally important to Project Portfolio Management. So, given the subject's pervasiveness and the impact of improved decision-making leading to more successful project outcomes, perhaps it should be a new and separate knowledge area.
Indeed, the authors believe that SDA has now become a practical framework that helps to solve many problems in different areas, including project management. So, whichever is your primary interest, this book is easy to read and is well illustrated with well-established business case examples, diagrams, humor, and illustrative cartoons.
1. Virine, Lev, & Michael Trumper, Project Decisions - The Art and Science, Management Concepts, VA, 2008, p7
2. Ibid, p7-8
3. Ibid, p9