Decision Management Plan: An Important Component of the PMP
In the course of any feasibility study, project delivery teams (PDTs), as a group and as individuals within the team, consistently make small and large decisions impacting the outcomes and recommendations of the study. When the important decisions that affect study outcomes and the recommendation are not well documented, the familiar result is more time and effort communicating important PDT study results to the vertical team.
The decision management plan (DMP) describes the work that will be done by the PDT in reaching the next significant planning decision. A DMP is created for each significant planning decision (usually milestone decisions), so each study should expect to have 3-5 DMPs that, together, describe the strategy to complete a study and decision document. The DMP is no longer expected to be a separate document, but rather should be a part of a PDT's Project Management Plan (PMP). Additionally, PDTs should expect to speak on their DMPs within their PowerPoint presentations for feasibility milestone meetings.
NOTE: The DMP is not to be confused with the decision log. The decision log captures the outcomes of vertical team discussions and agreements. The DMP describes a strategy for executing the work required to reach a planning decision.
Each DMP explicitly identifies the next decision to be made and describes the following: what information will be used to make the decision; who will develop that information; how and when will it be developed; and, when the decision will be made. The DMP is used in combination with a risk register to determine the appropriate level of detail in the planning analyses and is used to align the vertical team’s understanding and expectations for the work to be done. The DMP serves as a scoping aid because it is explicit about who will do what and when, in order to bring information to bear on the decision. A risk register will be developed as a companion to each DMP, so that the PDT can be explicit in its assessment of the uncertainties in the decision criteria and risks in the proposed plan of work. The PDT and the vertical team will evaluate these uncertainties and risks. The PDT and vertical team discussions about the DMP and risk register will lead to agreements on a proposed course of action that balances uncertainty and level of detail, while giving due consideration to the issues and risks that are most important in this study.
The DMP affords the PDT an opportunity to describe key assumptions, technical challenges, or policy questions in advance of the work being completed. The issues can be explained in the context of the planning decisions to be made, so that the entire vertical team is able to maintain a decision focus while discussing and resolving these issues. Customarily, these items are handled through separate issue papers or white papers, but by incorporating the issues into the DMP, these issues can be weighed in relation to other issues or critical uncertainty factors as the work strategy is evaluated by the vertical team.
Suggested Outline for a Decision Management Plan
- Identify the decision to be made.
- Identify the sequence of events to get to the decision.
- Describe any key issues in this strategy.
- What decision criteria will be used?
- Who will develop/collect the criteria information?
- What is the schedule for completing this work and making this decision?
Contents of the Decision Management Plan
The DMP is expected to be no more than 10-15 pages, and is intended to be developed rather quickly so that planning work is not delayed. The contents of each section are described in the following paragraphs.
Typically, the decision to be made will align with one of the milestones in the SMART Planning process, so the expected outcomes for each milestone meeting serve as a guide for the decision to be made at that milestone. For example, the first milestone is the Alternatives Milestone, and the vertical team is expected to agree on the formulated array of alternative plans. The DMP documents the PDT and vertical team work strategy to reach a decision (vertical team alignment) on that formulated array.
The sequence of events would include the highlights of the PDT’s critical thinking and associated interim decisions and actions prior to reaching that next significant planning decision or milestone. Typically, these won’t be process-oriented as much as they will be oriented towards planning actions. This is not a firm rule or limitation, just a caution that DMPs should focus on the action steps in the work process, rather than the meetings and memos that are conducted along the way. For example, while working towards deciding the formulated array, expected steps may include establishing the planning foundation (problems & opportunities, objectives & constraints), gathering and evaluating suitability of available information about the problems & opportunities, identifying decision criteria and metrics, brainstorming measures, screening measures, developing formulation strategies, using formulation strategies to assemble initial array of alternatives, and screening this initial array to reach a formulated array. Some or all of these elements would be identified as the sequence to get from where the team is now to a formulated array. Although these are common events, they may not all be worth highlighting, and there are other events that may be important to highlight in your study (for example, getting resolution on one of the identified issues in the next section).
The key issues section of the DMP is optional; your study may not have any unusually complex issues at this point. This section should be used to identify critical items that will require vertical team (or perhaps technical team) input or agreement before the decision can be made. These may be technical, policy, or legal issues. Common examples include unusual assumptions about future without project conditions, usage of an unfamiliar data source or a new model, policy waivers that may be required, etc. This may also be a place to discuss key uncertainties, summarizing the highest risk items that can be found in the risk register, and the actions the study team has taken to manage those risks.
The DMP must be explicit about what decision criteria will be used in each planning decision. In general, planners use the four criteria identified in the 1983 Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies (P&G) as formulation and evaluation criteria: Completeness, Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Acceptability. In practice, we use a combination of quantitative and qualitative criteria to evaluate plans against the P&G accounts (National Economic Development, Regional Economic Development, Environmental Quality, and Other Social Effects). For each decision, the DMP must explicitly identify which criteria are to be used and what metrics will represent those criteria. The data source, method, model, or analytical procedures used should also be explicitly identified, as a means to convey the sources of uncertainty in these metrics. Explicit descriptions help the team to use the risk register to assess the uncertainty and resulting risk in using these criteria in the planning decision, and provide information important to members of the vertical team for understanding the PDT’s path forward.
The Who and When sections of the DMP allow the team to make direct connections to the rest of the PMP. It is best to identify the PDT member who will be bringing the decision criteria information to the team, and this is also a good time to have them identify any required inputs.