Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

How do I make decisions under pressure?

Whether you are managing projects, a portfolio or staff … bigger the size, more pressure you are under to make decisions under pressure. The pace of technology and resulting expectation means the time you had to consider options once seem to be reducing every day. Sometimes it feels like a daunting challenge to operate in this environment. What can one do about it?

how do i make decisions under pressure

Implement required tools

Today there is expectation from customers that you operate in an environment that has real time access to information, that your staff have a good knowledge of what is happening in an account. There is expectation from your own company executives that you are able to provide status of projects immediately and change course as soon as needed. There are enough players in the market with the ability to meet that expectation. There are plenty of cloud offerings that provide per user per month solutions. More and more organisations are getting this capability every day. Longer you put off implementing and using the right tools for the job, you are putting yourself at more disadvantage. Check out tools like AtTask, Liquid Planner, Teamwork PM, Collaborate to name a few. Try them out and settle on the most appropriate one for you. It does take a bit of effort. If your company is loathed to part company with the investment cost, articulate the cost of not doing so. The worst thing you can do is to be comfortable in your own traditional systems and let the world catch up and pass you.

Trust your judgement

Information is one thing, judgement is totally different. In many sports referees utilise television systems to make judgements on matters they may have missed. To my horror I have seen them make mistakes in adjudication despite evidence to the contrary. If you follow cricket or rugby league, the recent Ashes series or the NRL competition are prime examples. I am sure it is no different in other sports. It is not the systems in fault, but the person making the judgement. The best tools will give you the most accurate and timely information. It is your judgement that will set you apart. There are many decisions to be made each day on strategy you want to employ, trade-offs, risk and issue management and so on. You must remember that the reason you are being asked to make such decisions is because of your previous track record and confidence generated from that. Double guessing yourself will lead to your teams doing the same.

Accept you will get it wrong occasionally

We are not born with hindsight. Not every decision you make will turn out to be perfect. Even the best make mistakes. As long as you are making more correct decisions than not, you should be ok. What is considered a good ratio is dependent on the industry you are in. However, one thing you should always do is record the basis for your decisions. This will allow you to analyse them for future decision making or to defend your decisions should something go really wrong. You have to make decisions with the information you have at hand. Recording the basis for your decisions will allow you to judge whether your tools allow you best chance of success or need replacing.

Empower your team

The days of a manager being able to control every aspect of a project, programme or initiative are long gone. Your teams are usually communicating at various levels with your customers and also other suppliers. You have to ensure that not every decision has to be made by you. This is especially true if you are managing in an area where you used to be a subject matter expert. If you start making decisions, I can guarantee you will have to make every decision, thereby ensuring bottleneck. Also beware of outdated knowledge. Just because you knew the content in yesteryear does not mean you know it today. Have trusted leaders in their disciplines. Build a culture of people solving problems themselves. You must reward initiative and avoid being punitive. Nothing spreads hesitation like uncertainty. As long as mistakes are founded in good endeavour and not repeated or caused by negligence, provide mentoring rather than taking them to task. In case of a crisis allow people to step up by showing confidence in them, rather than fighting fire by stepping down. It is hard to hold your nerve in such situations. However, once you do it, the whole dynamic will change.


If there is one thing that you must do, that is to learn from others. Study your industry, field of work, management literature, design patterns … things others have found to work in various situations. There is no sense in learning by repeating mistakes others have made. Research your own success and failures. Look at how your competition works in the market … both good and bad ones. Look at systems and technologies that may give you an edge. Look out for disruptors in the market that threaten the way you work. More aware you are of these, less you will flinch when taking a decisive action.

What are your experiences? Is my feeling having to make more decisions under pressure simply a reflection of my taking on more responsibilities? Or is it a larger trend?

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4 responses to “How do I make decisions under pressure?

  1. kitipan August 29, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Just a suggestions, perhaps in which order would these factors rank would also be nice.

    • Shoaib Ahmed August 29, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t think there is a specific rank among these. Trusting your judgement and accepting you’ll get it wrong sometimes are something one can start straight away. Others are improvements that take some time.

  2. Pingback: When Project Managers can be dangerous | Project Management in Practice

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