Another monthly edition of the Leadership Toolbox with Fletch here! Last month, we drilled into good followership and how it is a responsibility for those who have previously led. This month, I would like to dive into strategic decision-making and the effect it has on crews lacking it. I have not disclosed this yet, but I am working on my master’s degree in construction management. I currently take a course in resource planning and decision-making — a key skill of good leaders. This week in my discussion board, I talked about a poor experience with lack of strategic decision-making and how it negatively affected the project team.
In this instance, I served in a support role on the project team after I had previously led a project. I came to the team toward the end of the schedule to provide manpower for the final push. I was not aware that the project manager had made a handshake deal to finish the project ahead of the agreed on schedule. This type of agreement involves a bonus financial incentive in my experience.
In construction, we often refer to the basic model of quality known as the “Iron Triangle” (Villanova University, 2021). This model places quality at the center of a triangle and the three constraints “budget, scope, and schedule” are placed at each corner (Villanova University, 2021). The premise behind this model is that you can pursue two of the three constraints at the expense of the third. For example, if you want to deliver a project on or ahead of schedule and at a low cost, then you will sacrifice elements of the scope which ultimately affects quality. Many project managers attempt to pursue all three constraints because doing so earns higher incentives and boosts reputation. The problem lies in the strategic approach to pursuing these three constraints in a balanced manner. Often a project manager will approach these constraints with little or no strategy. In doing so, the project manager increases the level of work on the management team without developing a clear understanding of roles, responsibilities, and priorities.
This is exactly what occurred. There was no strategic planning in the advanced pursuit of the three project constraints and it took a drastic toll on the management team. In five months, the team saw the turnover of four employees including the senior field production manager.
As a good follower I reflected on the situation, and my prior experience, and offered feedback to the project manager. I mentioned to the project manager that the issues we were experiencing meeting the new schedule requirements were a direct result of an unclear strategic approach. The company attempted two things to try and speed up the schedule which were unsuccessful. First, they paid a large amount in overtime to try and speed up production over the course of two months. Then, realizing this sacrificed quality and set them further behind schedule, they brought in additional manpower to address the quality control issues. This left the project behind the contractual turnover schedule and the employees confused about their priorities, roles, and responsibilities.
I recommended the use of a shaping approach as a strategy for course correction. This involves “collaboration in environments that are simultaneously unpredictable and malleable” (Fuller, Legrand, & Reeves, 2018). This approach is “about supporting effective collaboration to shape an unpredictable environment to the advantage of the company and others whose interests coincide” (Fuller, Legrand, & Reeves, 2018). If the company had fostered this collaboration in the decision to speed up the schedule, it would have benefitted not only the management team, but the client as well. The project manager created the unpredictable environment by accepting the schedule incentive without a strategy.
An experience like this begs the question, why do leaders make poor strategic decisions? An article entitled “6 Reasons We Make Bad Decisions, and What to Do About Them,” part of my required reading this week, offers an answer. I will not go through all the reasons from the article, just the reason applicable to this example. The author poses that “emotions, especially during moments of peak anger and happiness, can hinder our ability to make good decisions” (Erwin, 2019). This accurately describes why the decision to pursue an incentive was made: a moment of peak happiness at the opportunity for more money, and the moments of peak anger that ensued from a team that found itself lost and behind schedule.
The counter to making emotional decisions as a leader is to “pay attention to your emotional state and focus on the character strength of self-control” (Erwin, 2019). Good leaders require a deep understanding of who they are before they can lead others and make good decisions. Just because an opportunity is available does not mean we should accept it as a leader. If we decide based on our emotions without a strategy, we not only set ourselves up for failure, but also alienate the team we are responsible for as leaders. We do not always have time for a collaborative effort when it comes to decision-making. However, whether we have the time or not, a firm understanding of our people and the capabilities of our team will allow us to enter decisions strategically and increase the percentage of decisions in the win column. The drilling industry is full of hundreds of decisions daily. Applying a strategic mindset at the outset of each day could be the edge that takes a crew from good to great. Until next time, Fletch over and out!
Erwin, M. (2019). 6 Reasons We Make Bad Decisions, and What to Do About Them. Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, 2–4.
Fuller, J. Legrand, J. & Reeves, M. (November 14, 2018). Your Strategy Process Needs a Strategy.
Villanova University. (January 5, 2021). How to Maximize Project Quality with the Iron Triangle of Project Management.