Quality : Project Manager – Decision Maker

This is an extended / deep down session for Quality : Project Manager series.

Decision Maker, why a project manager (or to be precise, all manager) need it. This session applied to almost all manager-level, while in this article, I write project manager as representation.

Most of the time, a project manager must lead their subordinates to face problems and tasks. There are almost infinite solutions that can be taken to do those problems and tasks. A project manager must make decisions about those solutions and choose the best one. Making a good decisions is another discussion and problem out there, able to make one or not at all is the problem here.

An indecisive manager is bad manager. If in your company have manager with this quality, fire them immediately. They bring more harm than good.

A decision, after being made by the manager, will be executed by the staff or his/her subordinates. Now if the manager does not make the decision, what can go wrong?

The Decision Making Will be Done at Lower Level

The lower level I mean here is supervisor level or even staff level. I can imagine that almost all the time, those indecisive manager will only order their subordinates to solve the problem, without giving directions or clear instruction for those orders.

Those unclear instructions will resulting in more decisions that their subordinates must make. More indecisive the manager and unclear the order is, the more decisions that the subordinate must make. Then what? Is it bad? Before I continue, I want to emphasize that when the decision is made at supervisor / staff level, the decision will be split into smaller decisions, and more people that will make the decisions.

More People Making Decision = More Unaligned the Overall Action

Let’s say that we have a naval ship, frigate class (well, I like the Golden Age of Piracy theme) with 80 crews, one captain and 10 masters (supervisor levels). The captain is given a task to exterminate the notorious pirates at Tortuga (Pirates of Carribean, ahoy!). He will set sail from Port Royal.

Imagine that the captain say to the sailing master (navigator) and other masters like this: “we need to exterminate the pirates at Tortuga”. How will the masters do their job? Each of them will have different plans in mind. For example: the boatswine want to direct the ship 100 km (~62 miles) from Tortuga for restocking, while the quartermaster want the ship to port nearer to Tortuga so they can gain information about said pirates, and sailing master now begin to wonder whether the weather is good for sailing.

It will be worse if the sailing master said this to the navigation crew: “we will go to Tortuga to exterminate some pirates”. Among dozens of sailor crews, there will be some that want to sail to the west, and some to the northwest, and they won’t make much progress.

What is the Result from Unaligned Action

Now that the crews are confused. That can resulted in delayed actions due to need of plan reconciliation between masters and crews. That delayed actions costs supply, money, and threaten the mission. It will be worse later when the preparation is not good, the supply is badly managed, they run into bad weathers, they are ambushed by pirates in the trip, etc. That can costs them live and the success rate for mission is significantly lower.

What if?

Now only if the captain said something like this: “We need to exterminate pirates at Tortuga. in one week, we will set sail to port X, 100 km (~62 miles) from Tortuga. We will take the northwest route, a safest one that passed Y bay. We want to minimize the encounter with pirate during the trip. From there, after 3 days of resupply, we will continue to move to port K, 5 km (~3 miles) from Tortuga. We will use one week for resupply, learn the weather, topography and gathering information about the pirates. Then after deciding which attacking strategy we will use, we attack them”.

We can see from the second instruction that the captain give very clear instruction to the crews. Now the crews know what they need to do and each master can make plans to support the original plans made by captain. Immediately after, they can discuss between each other master about the more in-depth technical plan, then later being completed as masterplan, that will be used as guidance for the mission. Each masters can handle their own team and each teams can act according to plan. The success rate for mission is significantly higher.

The same decision is also needed when encounter with emergency situation, such as sudden bad weather and ambushed by pirates. If the captain is indecisive with his decision, the entire crew will be in chaos.


Indecisive manager can threaten the success rate of a task / mission. Usually even though the task is completed, it will costs more time and financially as well. A clear decision and instruction will resulting in more responsive subordinate and increasing mission success rate. As a note, a manager that like to change decision that his/her has made is not different that the indecisive one. The master plan that has been discussed before can change, resulting in extra cost for subordinates to re-align with the new plan.

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