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Topics: Business Intelligence, Estimating, Stakeholder Management, Strategy
When approaching Senior Management who cannot make a decision or doesn't know what they want - how do you approach?
I've encountered multiple times when Sr. Management is confused on what to do -- cannot make decisions (or avoid making decisions due to fear of change). What are your examples of cutting through the red tape/politics/bureaucracy?
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I do not agree with you about they avoid making decisions. But not matter that my recommendation is taking a look to SPIN Seliing or Solution Selling selling method. While I am not a seller I was trained on that due to my position into a place I worked time before and this method helps me a lot.
In the course of my own career progression to Senior Management roles, I have realised that the number of conflicting objectives only rise & rise, when one moves up the ladder !.

The answer to your question is situation & context dependent but in general, I'd say cutting through red tape/bureaucracy is relatively easier than the 'politics' one, as the former is more predictable :-).

An approach that has helped me expedite my projects is to anticipate and provide for the red tape related delays (as much as possible) through actions like:

- initiating resource requests in advance (e.g. raising a laptop request for a new recruit before s/he joins)
- including buffers in estimates (frequent culprits are procurement processes that are also dependent on external partners/suppliers) so resource availability dates get pushed out
- keeping the 'bureaucrats' in good spirits ; a healthy relationship with the General & Admin staff usually helps

The caveat here is that not each suggestion may or may not be possible in one's specific context.

As PM's, we are all 'ball jugglers' so one has to constantly refine / change the approach, based on frequent assessments of what is working and what is not..!
William -

Help them understand the urgency of a decision and the cost of delay. Senior leaders usually have too much on their plates so answering the WHY question is crucial. I also like to have a clear understanding of which decisions really need their support. Sometimes we look to senior leaders for a decision when they feel we should be empowered to make it ourselves.

as you say they are confused. Look at it from this perspective: you caused that confusion and you can avoid it by making your request for decision confusion free. It needs to be their language, their interests, 2-3 clear options. As Sergio said, you are a salesman, they are your customers who pay you with the right decisions. Or not.
There are some very good points here. I am not a salesman either, but I've had to develop some skills to steer plans to the right outcome.

First, keep it simple. No matter how good your planned pitch is, be prepared that the decision maker may interrupt and steer you off your talking points. Have the elevator pitch ready. If you only have 30 seconds to get your message out, make it count.

Second, as Thomas points out, have 3 clear options. Failing to make a decision is itself a decision. When selling your plan, the first option is the do-nothing plan. This shows them the danger of inaction. The 2nd is your optimal plan. This is the escape route from the risk of inaction. The 3nd is your back-up plan if they don't want to commit to your optimal plan. (Reverse 2 and 3 if the person has a habit of always rejecting the first choice.)

I've developed this approach straight out of Sun-tzu's Art of War and it's surprisingly effective. The idea is that rather than fight to the death in a battle they can't win (do nothing), they will seek an escape route. Your job is to get them to take the escape route you have prepared as your primary strategy.
Hi William,
You have raised very relevant question about decision making approach by senior management. In this regard I agree with Thomas reply. If you really want senior management engagement, we need to appraise them about situation and help them in finding solutions by providing options. This you may call proactive approach to get involved senior management into decision making process.
Convincing people to make business decisions is not really the work of the PM and typically when management or any stakeholder has to make a decision they need to understand what is in it for them. This is typically done by an analyst. People put off making decisions because they do not

a) understand the decision they need to make and/or
b) understand the impact of the decision

If this is communicated clearly then a decision would not be difficult.
Confront them (brutally, if needed) with the reality and some clear options: if you do this, the consequence will be the following and so on.

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