Leadership Communication

December 11, 2019 by Scott Palochik

Trusting Your Team To Make The Right Decisions

Your senior management team has just assigned you a large strategic project. Maybe it’s the addition of a new product line, building a new plant, or implementing a new ERP system. This project is an excellent opportunity to shine. After the initial excitement, it begins to set in that there is also a lot that could go wrong. You realize that your success is almost entirely dependent on the decisions and actions of the many people who will work on delivering this project.


Project management classes tend to focus on the mechanics of project management, like schedules, risk registers, RACI charts, etc. These tools will certainly be useful in delivering a successful project, but we all know of projects where these things were all done, sometimes even done well, but the project still failed. You don’t want your project to fall into that category.


One rarely taught principle on large projects is that people outside the project team make most of the decisions impacting the project. I led one project where, at the peak, we had about 800 professionals working on the project. There where engineers, designers, buyers, quality professionals, production supervisors, plant managers, HR managers, marketing managers and so on. Many were employees of the company; even more, were suppliers. We had 200 suppliers producing new parts and components for this new product. Each person was making decisions that impacted the success of our project!


As the program manager, I came to realize that my success and the success of the project required trust. I had to trust that the professionals around me would make the right decisions.


However, success was dependent on all of those decisions being aligned with the objectives of the project. The question is,  how do you build confidence that your extended team will do the right things? This cannot be a simple exercise in delegating decision making. You must give folks a framework for making the right decisions.


Several tools in the project management toolbox help a lot. The scope and requirements documents are essential tools here. But do they give people a sufficient framework for making trade-off decisions?


We found that that it was beneficial to build a compelling story that made the purpose of the project or program clear. This purpose statement deepened people’s understanding of the reasons behind requirements and scope. To build a compelling story for your project or program, be sure to keep it simple and short. You want people to remember it. We, at espi, help clients build their compelling stories with four key elements:


  • Situation: Where are we and how did we get here?
  • Gap: What is it that we want that we don’t currently have?
  • Solution: How are we going to close the gap?
  • Future state: When we’re done, how is the world going to be a better place?


Compelling stories built with these four components help tremendously in aligning teams. By understanding the “, Why” of the project is motivating and guiding. It helped 800 people make decisions that led to a great new product!



About the Author:
Don Ortner – Don joined espi with over 7 years of consulting experience collaborating with C-level teams and functional management to implement changes leading to improved revenue and profitability. He has guided teams to successfully develop and deliver new processes for building strategies, delivering innovations and improving operations. As an executive with over twenty-five years in strategy, innovation and new product development, Don has led dozens of teams through every stage of innovation from discovery through development and commercialization.

In addition to consulting, Don teaches MBA level courses in project management and international strategy at DeSales University. He has earned the PMP certification and is an active member of the PMI. He has served on the board of a non-profit and currently holds volunteer leadership positions on the Innovation Leadership Forum.



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