Matt | 14 March 2023

How to Make Decisions as a Program Manager

If you want to become a successful program manager, you will have to make many decisions during your career. Knowing when to take the next steps and how will be vital for the success of the project and is a valuable learning curve throughout your career. Here we are going to talk about critical decision-making skills for program managers and more to the point how to make good decisions.

From unimportant to critical decisions

As already mentioned as a program manager you will be making decisions daily, and plenty of them. Some of these will be critical and making choices will lead to the success or failure of the project, while others will be relatively unimportant but still need making.

Making critical decisions is not easy and will require you, among other things, to:

  • Obtain accurate and complete data;
  • Take a close look at your logic and biases;
  • Think about the short and long-term impacts of your decision;
  • Acceptability of a decision and whether everyone will accept it.

The classic approach to making decisions

There is a rational set of steps outlined in the classic approach to making decisions, which are as follows:

  1. Identifying the issue – the first step is recognising that there is a problem. Following this is the definition of goals and collecting the information required to be able to go ahead and make a rational decision.
  2. Brainstorming all solutions – next is brainstorming all solutions without filtering anything reasonable at this point. This is where gathering assurance from many perspectives is important.

A great example of a project that requires good decision-making is the multi-billion pound HS2 initiative in the UK. This is the largest infrastructure project in Europe, with Sir Jonathan Thompson at the helm, being responsible for leadership, oversight and accountability for the entire program. Imagine the pressure of making critical decisions on this scale.

  1. Choosing the best option – as a program manager, you need to use filtering criteria to decide on the best solution possible.
  2. Put the solution into practice and monitor results – finally, put the solution into practice and monitor the results.

So, this is the classic approach to making the best decisions as a project manager, but of course, things don’t always go to plan.

Issues to consider when following the classic approach to decision making

While there is a rational set of steps that can be followed to help you make decisions as a program manager, there are issues with the model that don’t always make it easy to follow.

For instance:

  • It would be easier to reach a decision if the problem was clear. However, in the real world, those making decisions very rarely have access to perfect information and the problem is not clear-cut;
  • Fatigue, attitudes and emotions may interfere with decision-making and put a stop to making a rational decision;
  • It is almost impossible for decision-makers to accurately forecast future consequences;
  • Ethical values and cultural values can influence the process of decision-making;
  • Data is often presented poorly, which makes a decision not obvious;
  • Decision-makers may find it difficult to comprehend huge amounts of information;
  • The decision maker may be influenced by those who may have a strong interest or preference for a particular outcome;
  • There are often more opinions than there are facts.

Flaws in decision making

Decision-making isn’t without its flaws when working as a program manager. There are five particular areas where flaws often occur that you have to be aware of, and these are:

  1. False assumptions
  2. Errors in logic
  3. Mistaking a symptom for a problem
  4. Unreliable memories
  5. Biases.

Why Managing Successful Programs course is valuable

A Managing Successful Programmes Foundation & Practitioner course (MSP®) is a best practice guide from the Home Office. It is a valuable course for any program manager as it is a structured approach.

The course has been designed for program managers and was developed using collective expertise alongside practical experience from some of the leaders in the field. As such, the course reflects best practices while simultaneously being a workable technique that has been tested by program managers, strategists, consultants and others in the real world.

The themes in the course are split over key areas that should be taken into account for managing programmes, along with practical examples to follow. One prime example of a theme is the justification theme which covers the whole journey, starting from the initial programme mandate through to completion. The themes are interlinked with the assurance and decision themes having a particularly close relationship.

Assurance and decisions go hand-in-hand, as a successful program manager must have confidence in what they are doing. Confidence is crucial in making decisions as it affects everything, and this is covered in the course.

Book your course to help you make better decisions as a program manager

Good decision-making is key if you want to be successful as a program manager, and improving your skills goes a long way to ensuring you reach the top of your field by making better decisions.

The MSP® course, which you can take virtually or in the classroom to learn the best practices in decision-making, is suitable for any program manager who wants to feel more confident in making decisions. This training can be invaluable if you want to become a better program manager, so why not book your course today with TSG Training?