I have previously disserted on the actual need for a project manager to be able to make the right decision at the right time. I strongly believe that success is based on this simple principle.
Our first reaction would be to imply the existence of a strong relationship between experience and good decision making. The question is: What kind of experience? Domain experience or project management experience? While activities, resources, milestones, levelling, etc. are tools for the senior project manager, they are often targets for his/her less experienced counterpart.
In the past several years, I have worked with all sorts of IT project managers (junior, casual, senior, expert, guru). As I watched their everyday struggle to survive project situations by making the right decision, I tried to compare their thought processes. From these observations I would propose the following tenet: Senior project manager decisions are affected by potential project difficulties while more junior project manager decisions are based on the project plan structure and its deficiencies. I will follow with a corollary: project management maturity is not based on longevity, but rather on breadth of experience.
The project manager’s ability to abstract information from the project planned and actual data is a crucial determinant in his decision making effectiveness. This ability is linked to the project manager’s breadth of knowledge and experience in the domain the project is run. There are differences in how junior and senior project managers are affected by different aspects of their projects. The difficulty in finding and recognizing potential problems in the available data is what I observed the most in junior project managers. They tend to focus on project management rather than managing their projects. Seniors are better at getting at the core of the situation and less influenced by side aspects of the project like project management principles. Thus, I believe the information gathering and analysis process is a critical element in the performance of a project manager.
In order to increase the performance of junior project managers, you need to provide tools or processes that ensure project data is reliable. For example, a careful attention to using simple and relevant scheduling best practices should be a nice way to achieve this. This would increase the junior (or senior) project manager confidence and help making more accurate and timely project decisions using his/her domain knowledge.
For more resources, see the Library topic Project Management.