Providing Choices


When you look at a group of tomatoes at the store from a distance, they all look the same.  That doesn’t make for excitement.  It doesn’t make me feel like I have options.  If I want a tomato, I get that type of a tomato.  It’s kind of like getting a Model T in fire-engine red…not going to happen.

People like choices, and as Project Leaders, we need to understand that desire.  Sales people have been using this tactic for decades. 

Don’t give people the option to say “no”, give them options on how to say “yes”.

As a Project Leader, you are a salesman, whether you want to be or not.  You have to sell your solution, your method, your team choice, your timeline, your budget, and your abilities.  These are all points of sale, and if you provide options, you will sell more.

The Solution & Budget

Selling the solution seems like it should be the last step, but it is the first.  Most times a project is “identified” already and you are the one to get it done.  The thing is, there are multiple solutions for most situations:  Automation vs. Manual, New vs. Used, Higher Investment/Lower Operation Cost vs. Lower Investment/Higher Operation Cost.

These are all choices.  Scope your project on all of these fronts for feasibility and impact.  Present the options to the stakeholder and help him choose the solution that is right for him.  Remember that the solution and the budget are closely related.  Provide valuable options that are at different investment levels, however, make sure they all satisfy the objective of the project.

The Method & Timeline

Method is the HOW for executing the project.  You already have the WHAT sewn up with the choices you provided for the solution.  Now, with the different solutions, you can have different methods.  These choices can range from installation methods, equipment options, operation needs, interviews, surveys, process flow maps, value-stream mapping, and many other buzzwords, catch-phrases, and tools that proliferate in the Project Management arena.  Pick different options that, again, provide value to the stakeholder.  Method and timeline are directly related and usually the longer the time investment the more thoroughly the solution will be implemented and sustained after the project is completed without your intervention.

Be careful here.  It can be easy to find yourself providing a method option that is going to tie you to the project for a long time.  Understand your time commitment and budget and provide options that fit within your requirements.  Also, be cautious about being pulled back into the project after it is completed because it drifts backwards.  This is usually because you provided an option that was too short on time and the project was not adopted readily, requiring your intervention later.  Make sure the stakeholder knows when you are parting ways with the project and understand that support will be limited afterwards.  People will not own something if they can rely on the Project Leader as a crutch.

The Team & Your Abilities

These options start with a clear assessment of what you bring to the table.  Understand your time availability, your technical capabilities, and the level of intimacy you have with the project topic.  Create options around how you will support your weaknesses (and it is okay to have weaknesses on a project and still be the Project Manager) with other people and create potential teams with suggestions.  Make sure that all of these teams satisfy your requirements for time and talent, but still give options on who is on the team and the time they will need to invest to the project.

How Many?

Three is always a good number.  I think that is why the Baby Bear in Goldilocks didn’t have any siblings.  You will find that with a number like three, the process of elimination takes over and you will have an option that is too hot, too cold and another that is just right.  Sometimes you can’t make it to three, that is okay, work with what you have.  Other times, you may need to present more options.  Understand your audience and the project complexity.

Don’t provide too many choices.  People get bogged down when they have too many options to consider.  Use yourself as a guide.  If you would be willing to sit and read all of the options and weigh them against one another, chances are that your stakeholder will as well.


2 thoughts on “Providing Choices

  1. Hi Anthony,

    I completely disagree with your post – giving people choices, especially stakeholders in a project, will only lengthen the decision making process especially if they’re not well informed of the choices.

    Comparing making real decisions to choosing a tomato does not help the cause of this post.

    • I understand your concern with lengthening the decision-making process. Informed decisions are the best decisions, and you are correct that it is unwise to rely on the decisions of an ill informed stakeholder.

      However, I view it the responsibility of the Project Leader to educate the stakeholder about the choices. My intention is not for the PM to toss some papers on the stakeholder’s desk and walk away. Taking the time up front can save headaches down the road.

      I am glad for the feedback. I am interested in differing opinions and welcome the discussion.

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