Project Practitioners > When No One Can Decide

When No One Can Decide

By Ann Drinkwater

What do you do when key business stakeholders cannot make a decision needed for project success? Making it for them isn't effective and will not help your working relationship. If something needs to be decided that will impact the success of the project or even what projects are selected as priorities, it is our job to make sure the necessary decisions are made. It can be time consuming and challenging, but we should also work to influence the decision and direction based on our experience, knowledge and what we believe is the right avenue for the organization. Business is business and the right solution isn't always the popular choice. For decisive individuals, it can be difficult to understand the dynamics that affect another’s decision making process. Each person in our work environment comes with a unique set of beliefs, background and experience. These differences can create complexities in communication and decision making. Obstacles and indecision can result from political reasons, lack of knowledge and background, lack of critical thinking ability and even fear.

In order to ensure our projects have the right direction and accompanying activities completed, we must often use creative forms of decision making in our organizations and for our projects. There are numerous decision making models available to assist; however, they each require critical thinking and analysis in order to use. I often find it is deciding what types of information/data are needed that can be most challenging. From a project management standpoint, I don’t think you can be too involved in your projects or your organizations. Both the key and the challenge are applying the right model or combination of models to the situation. Each project or business problem is unique and therefore requires a custom approach to determining the best solution.


I typically use a combination of formal models and other communication invoking activities to involve the group in determining the right solution. There can be many barriers to communication and decision making which need to be analyzed as well. It’s not until you fully understand the underlying reason a decision is not being made that you can help the group move forward. Below are a few areas I often use to identify barriers and assist in the overall analysis of possible alternatives.

  • Meet One-on-One: Meet one on one with individuals involved in the pending decision to understand their stand, reservations and general thoughts.
  • Meet as a Group: Meet as a group with all involved allowing individuals to share ideas with one another and create an open line of communication.
  • Collect Data: Assist individuals in collecting data needed to make decisions, including helping to identify what is pertinent (e.g. what will happen if we don’t complete this project). This will assist in quantifying the decision when applying formal decision making models.
  • Interpret Data: When looking at the expected value of a project, it is not just the cost savings, but the ongoing benefit and potential positive returns that need to be evaluated.

If there are many potential projects on the table, I often find it hard for a group to decide what is the most critical and to prioritize. Often times various groups focus on the projects for their function, without looking at the company at large. To handle situations like this, I usually end up asking the group, as a group, to decide the single most important project for the organization. The focus should be on the project that will have the most immediate positive impact.


Timely and well thought decisions are necessary to keep projects on track, to help businesses grow and advance and help organizational units function as a team. As Project Managers, we have an opportunity to help shape the decision and make a direct impact on anstakeholders and organizations.

Related Links
Sometimes it pays to have guidelines for escalating troublesome decisions. It may help people make decisions if they can compare project alternatives side-by-side. Even a simple matrix can find flexibility no one knew was there.

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