Decision Quality

Over the past few years we’ve seen a lot of companies go out of business and a lot of changes in the way surviving companies are doing business.  Hind sight is always 20/20 so we might as well use it to see what lessons can be learned from our failures in that past, to foster success in the future.  An umbrella statement that could be used to describe the cause of our current economical woes is ‘poor decision making’.  A couple years back when gas prices were consistently reaching the $3 and $4 range, it was probably a poor decision by Ford to sell the Excursion SUV, a 11mpg gas guzzling machine with a 7.3 liter Powerstroke engine.  Toyota was way ahead of the curve with their Prius hybrid.  However, their decision to cut costs by reducing quality turned out to be a very expensive one.  Business week is reporting that the resulting recall will cost Toyota 2 billion!  Another poor business decision that has affected us all was sub-prime mortgages.  Ughh! 

My point for raising these issues is by no means to say ‘I told you so’.  Like many others, I did not realize these events were going to happen until they were already taking place.  However, the organizations involved do have legal and ethical responsibilities to their stock holders.  What’s done is done, but I sure hope these organizations are proactively learning from these poor decisions.  As project managers we have a similar responsibility to anticipate problems and forecast effective solutions.  That is if we want to stay employed as project managers!  In my classes I always reiterate that project management is a sink or swim profession, because it is!

When I was finishing my PhD at the University of Colorado this past year, my research focused on leveraging IT to increase decision quality, while decreasing decision time.  If you’re interested in this topic, this is a good read.  However here, I’m going to discuss this in terms of project management.  A friend and recent student of mine, Brian Dornsife, is a project manager for Octagon Systems and manages circuit board development projects.  By the way, Congrats to Brian on recently passing the PMP exam!  During the discussion in our class he told me that each circuit board project he works on shares 85% to 90% common ground with previous projects. 

I think this is probably true to a plethora of different project management domains!  My guess is that when Boeing builds a new commercial jet, it’s going to have a cockpit, fuselage, wings, engines, and landing gear, like every other commercial jet before it.  That being said, lessons learned from a current project, will likely have significance in subsequent projects.  That’s where knowledge based system’s come in.  A knowledge based systems captures current knowledge (or experiences) and then disseminates this information to future decision makers. 

A knowledge based system can be a complicated multi-million dollar enterprise application, or it can be as simple as a project dashboard developed in Excel that organizes relevant metrics, risks, and resolutions.  In my project management dashboard blog series here at I’m walking you through the 9 knowledge areas and describing which metrics you should collect and efficient ways of putting this information together.  Last week I discussed Scope, and this Tuesday I’ll be discussing Time. 

Remember, our goal as project managers is to increase our decision quality while decreasing our decision time.  Putting a project dashboard together will help you accomplish both of these goals.  See you Tuesday!

I would love to hear your feedback on future topics you would like for me to discuss.

Brandon Beemer, PhD, PMP