A part of overall governance, how decisions are made within projects can also determine the success or failure of the project. It does not always matter if the decisions were right or wrong, as much as if there was transparent executive support and consensus among the project teams.
If we go back to the PMO picture (see below) the organizational strategy carries all the way down to the project plan. The first decision (to embark on a project) is the simplest. Strategy is communicated through an executive sponsor and steering committee for a project that will enhance the organization. This project is implemented through a PMO and project team. However, the representation of how risks and decisions is carried upstream very differently.
As project managers identify risks, they are identifying task risks through the project plan. These might be resource, budgetary, or due date issues. Either way, risks to the project are identified to the PMO for appropriate action.
While the PMO is concerned with project risks and takes the major project risks to the project steering committee, the PMO should be more concerned specifically with risks to the stated vision of the project. So if there is mitigation to a late task but that mitigation involves a change to the deliverable, the end state vision may be compromised. These types of risks must be represented to the steering committee.
The steering committee evaluates these risks with an eye on the organizational strategy. Even if the risk to the project vision might be a high probability, if the adjusted project is still compliant with the overall strategy, the steering committee might accept the risk.
Each layer represents a decision point. At the task level, these decisions are fairly minor and don’t usually involve much escalation. Often on major risks, the PMO is able to intervene. When that is not true, the steering committee and executive sponsors may be brought in.
Critical mid-project decisions must carry the weight of the executive sponsor, and the singular support of the steering committee. Oftentimes non-steering committee members and even subject matter experts will be sought out for consensus building. No matter how tied to the strategy, decisions are useless if practitioners are not convinced the right decision was made. Key stakeholders are sought out as they will garner further support that executive sponsorship may not be able to make.
Good decision making process at the appropriate levels allows projects to move smoothly, make adjustments quickly and appropriately, and set up project for success – even if not all decisions are perfect.