Choosing the Right Decision Making Structure for Your Project

When decisions have to be made, there are generally two types of decision-making models to choose from: the autocratic and the collective. Based on the circumstances and objectives of your project, there’s an up- and downside to each of these two models.

Autocratic Decision Making

An autocratic decision-making model is the one to go for when projects are time-critical, requirements are straightforward, consequences of error are tolerable, and stakeholder buy-in is unimportant. In other words, when the objective is to get the project done fast, within a reasonable margin of error, and regardless of stakeholder buy-in, consider an autocratic decision-making model.

A one-year software development project for a company’s new software system had nearly failed because decisions had to be made by a committee of several stakeholders. Now, with 70% of the budget gone and only two months remaining, something had to change. The company appointed a Product Owner who became solely responsible for releasing a Minimum Viable Product. She made some tough choices, shed a lot of low-priority user stories, and had an MVP to show to all key stakeholders present at the big annual conference.

Collective Decision Making

A collective decision-making model is the one to choose when projects are quality-critical, requirements are complex, consequences of error are severe, and stakeholder buy-in is crucial. That is to say, when the objective is to get things done right, with as few errors as possible, and with maximum stakeholder buy-in, consider a collective decision-making model.

For example, NASA and ESA have slow, exhaustive, and bureaucratic processes for each program and mission. It would be foolish to leave the lives of 4 astronauts and hundreds of millions of dollars1 or euros per mission in the hands of one decision maker.

  1. According to NASA, the average cost to launch a Space Shuttle as of 2011 was about $450 million per mission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *