A typical scenario: The team has to reach a final decision on a topic with pretty evenly divided pro’s and con’s and a significant number of unknowns. The team has been divided as to what to do and that divide continues. This decision is pivotal to forward movement. What’s a PM to do?

In general, the basic decision making process I like to use is an expansive phase followed by a convergent phase. The expansive phase is focused on creating alternatives and gathering data to analyze those alternatives. This part of the process is somewhat common among several environments, but time and resources allocated for this depends on the type of organization, the importance of the decision, and many other factors. For example, if possible, it might be useful to engage an external expert in some or all of the alternatives to weigh in on applicability to the topic/decision.

The convergent phase begins when it is generally felt that the team has explored all possible alternatives and has expended all available time and resources to analyze those alternatives. The execution of the convergent phase is varied and depends on the organization and the team members. The method could be rational, intuitive, political, multi-perspective, etc. In a typical executive environment, if the analysis part of the expansion phase does not raise an obvious best solution, the team is thrust into a judgment context. In such a situation, it is important to frame the decision in a mental model of the organization’s mission, vision, and values, thereby resulting in a long-term solution. If this is done well, success of the decision will depend mostly on the execution. In many cases, the organizational leader makes the judgment call and the team members’ commitment to that decision depends on how thorough the expansion phase examined their opinions. If well examined and considered, the team members are more likely to exhibit buy-in and commit to the final decision.

In the specific scenario above, if I assume that the expansive phase is complete and performed well, then I would ask the senior team leader to make the judgment call and explain to the team his thinking on the decision. If the expansive phase is not complete or was not done well, I would influence the team to consider the areas that I think need to be explored.

If there is no clear senior leader and, especially if there are many alternatives, a multi-voting method can be useful. It uses several rounds of voting, where in all but the last round, each team member has more than one vote, which allows them to indicate the strength of their support for each option. An arbitrary number of winners (i.e. the top 5) move to the next round of voting. When the winning alternatives are narrowed down to two, then a standard majority vote can be used. Multi-voting helps team members narrow down a wide field of options and the decision is progressively focused on the most popular alternatives.