How to Make Better Project Decisions

By now, the result of the Canadian Federal Election held on September 20 would be known. Was it a good decision by the people of Canada?

I believe James Surowiecki thinks so. After all, what is a general election if not a decision made following “The Wisdom of Crowds”? There are some basic assumptions though, for Surowiecki’s WoC theory to hold.

  1. The basic unit of decision making is the individual. Check.
  2. Each person should have private information to ensure diversity of opinion. Nope, this is not the case for an election because candidates campaign in public.
  3. Independence. Each voter’s decision should not be determined by the opinions of those around them. This is also not the case. Social media and pre-election predictions do influence voter turnout.
  4. Decentralization. Voters should be able to focus on specific issues and draw on local knowledge. This is arguable. Some voters will choose the candidate who will best represent them in their riding. Others may vote along party lines. So this is a maybe.
  5. Aggregation. There is a way to collect private, individual decisions into a collection decision. Check.

After going through the assumptions, I don’t think a federal election has the necessary framework to support Surowiecki’s WoC theory.

What about project decisions? How can you structure decision-making to utilize the WoC?

  1. Instead of relying on a single person, have a team of individuals make project decisions.
  2. To support diversity of opinion, this team needs to consist of subject matter experts drawn from all relevant disciplines and/or departments.
  3. Each SME should be able to make an independent judgment. So the votes need to be kept secret and not shared either during or after the decision is made. Raising hands or standing up in a public meeting to show support is not a good way to get the best decision. It is a very good way to not rock the boat and maintain the status quo.
  4. Decentralization. Each person needs to make the best decision for their department and/or location. They need to be encouraged to vote selfishly and not for the good of the group. This is counter-intuitive in a project setting.
  5. Aggregation. As the PM, you need to be neutral when collecting and collating the votes.

Depending on the culture of your organization, you have varying levels of influence on how governance decisions get made. In the end, you can only do your best to help your project team make the best decisions within their sphere of authority and responsibility.

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