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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

How to Make Decision with a Team

Short but very interesting discussion with Piotr followed my post about leading a team of developers. Piotr accurately pointed that a leader should listen to his team and the team should participate (more or less) in decision-making process. At least that’s true in most cases.

Despite the last word belongs to the leader, the team should feel they’re important. They should feel their opinions matter. They should feel the leader wants to listen to them. To be honest, more important is what they feel, not what’s the truth. Even if the leader doesn’t really listen to the team he should try to create impression that he does. That’s better than nothing.

When I was learning the MSF, one of sensible yet surprising principles was that there’s a team of peers and every decision should be made by achieving a consensus. That’s of course utopia, but if by any chance you’re able to proceed with a decision in this way, you should. Even if it’s easier just to force your opinion.

How to make the decision with the team then?

• Ask teammates about their ideas, not suggesting them yours. This can give you fresh look on the problem. You aren’t a smart Alec (oh, if you believe you are and you’re still reading – give up the rest). Someone from the team can have a better idea.
• Encourage them to contribute. In many cases if you don’t directly invite your teammates to participate, they won’t find enough courage or will or whatsoever and they won’t even say a word.
• Discuss all ideas with the team. You’ll sometimes find that people would have changed their mind after discussion. Even on their own ideas. That’s much better than telling him that their concepts are worthless. Even if they are.
• During discussion drill down every idea until you feel you understand it. If something is ambiguous let it be explained. If explanation is ambiguous too – drill deeper. Force them to drill with you (that’s what my boss keep asking me to do and believe me – it does work).
• Think about all possibilities and make the decision. Team of peers is nice idea, but unless the choice obvious or there’s countless amount of time to discuss, someone just has to make find the way out. You won’t guess who it could be…
• Communicate the decision but give reasons for it. If there was another hot option that was turned down motivate it either. People should know what the motivation behind the choice was.

Sounds easy? It is not.

• Usually you don’t have enough time. Not enough for discussion. Not enough for thinking it over. Not enough for managing all risks.
• Sometimes not every factor can be known by whole team. Especially when decision is rather organizational than technical. In this case you can have your team against you. Even if you’re the one who is right.
• Sometimes you don’t have your own opinion and none of provided ideas is convincing enough. Choose one and act like you were convinced, then. Your team needs convinced leader.

If it was easy the leader wouldn’t be needed.

Feel free to add something to both lists (especially to the first one).

in: communication, team management

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