Seven tips for successfully managing the decision points on your change programme

Decision points are the most significant times on any programme or project. These can be the most frustrating times but surely if the programme management is going well and the senior stakeholders are committed and engaged, the opportunity to involve the leaders who commissioned the work in adding value to the quality of deliverables, should be a rewarding time.

Sadly many programme managers betray their inexperience of how leadership teams make decisions by assuming on the programme plan that decisions are made at a single meeting or on a single day.

Given the opportunity to review deliverables, senior leaders will, quite rightly want to comment. In addition, significant decisions will always need dialogue amongst the senior leadership team about the implications which lie outside the programme eg finance availability, availability of key people, consideration of impact on other initiatives etc.

Some leaders are risk-averse – they need time to reflect on the options and listen to their colleagues. If this caution improves the quality of decisions for the organisation, it is best not to knock it but to take the benefit.

Here are 7 guidelines to ensure that these decision points are planned and organised to avoid the loss of time or a reduction in the quality of deliverables:

  1. Sequence decisions – sign-off key analysis as it is developed. For example agree solution requirements when these have been developed rather than waiting until the solution proposal is reviewed.
  2. Agree the role of each decision maker – what they are reviewing and why. Note – senior leaders want to provide feedback (otherwise why ask them for it) so give them a specific role through which they can add value.
  3. Build in at least 3 iterations of approval for written deliverables – firstly, review of the overall proposal; secondly, review of detail; thirdly approval. Good decisions are never made during first reading of a deliverable nor in the first meeting so build it in to the plan.
  4. Ensure that the role of professional advisers and testers is visible to avoid less knowledgeable leaders quibbling with it eg make it clear that the user interface of a web-tool has been designed and tested by a UI expert and then reviewed by a panel of users.
  5. Give careful thought to the format of the deliverables for review so you make it easy for the decision makers. This will be helped by splitting decisions down – see point 1.
  6. Do not introduce new approvers at later decision points (eg sales managers at the final product testing phase). If their input is important, they should have been involved in the earlier stages eg reviewing the requirements.
  7. Do not be heavy-handed in documenting approvals – the minutes of meetings clearly noting concerns, changes and decisions should be sufficient. In most organisations, asking for more (eg signatures on documents) is a strong statement of mistrust, especially if you are new to the organisation.

As a change programme practitioner (sponsor, programme manager or project manager) watch how decisions are made in your organisation and play your part in making sure that decision points are critical times at which value is added to your programme and its outcome.

Andrew Kearns
Hartswood Management Ltd
Delivering real transformation

For advice on structuring your transformation or change programme please email

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