ProjectThink: Why Good Managers Make Poor Project Choices
The success of a project is largely dependent upon the quality of the decisions that underlie the project plan and execution. Despite advances in communication, tools, and processes, the proportion of projects that fail remains relatively unchanged. That this failure rate appears so intractable is largely because of the very human limitations of the people who are managing the projects. Have you ever wondered how master illusionists are seemingly able to convince audiences that they can defy the laws of nature? Or better yet, how some of the finest financial minds of our day managed to fall prey to the mass delusion that was subprime mortgages? While these two examples would upon first glimpse appear to have completely different causes, in fact they arise from the same root cause, the common mechanisms and limitations in how we all process and act given our perceptions of the world. Project Think: Why Good Managers Make Poor Project Decisions looks at the latest research on internal (how we perceive and make sense of information) and external factors influence our decisions and what we can do to improve them.
As humans we all share a common cognitive framework to interpret the world around us and in turn attempt to make beneficial choices. While there is some variance in individual abilities, when it comes to decisions we all share the same basic mechanisms in understanding the world and making decisions. So, both the person renovating your kitchen and the CEO of a major bank who is responsible for your retirement funds share the same processes in their decision making. The only difference is that when the renovator gets it wrong, you end up with the wrong kitchen cabinets, when the CEO makes a mistake, you lose your life savings and the world economy teeters on the brink of collapse. Humans are social beings are social animals who have evolved to mechanisms that allow for quick decisions that account for many factors from fulfilling basic needs to higher level wants. Even the quickest decisions may involve such factors as social status, relationships, material needs, and others. To make these decisions we have evolved many simplifying mechanisms that help us store and recall (memory), categorize information to improve the speed and accuracy of our judgement. However, these same mechanisms make us subject to many different biases and conditions that can hamper our ability to clearly evaluate a situation and make good decisions
By understanding this psychological framework and how it impacts our judgement and behaviour, it is possible to create a project environment that takes advantage of this and improves project outcomes. We call this choice engineering, a process that creates an environment that will improve project decisions and success without being overly prescriptive. In the final chapters of the book, we outline some simple easy to implement steps and suggestions that will improve your project decisions. If your team members are worried that the new emphasis on “risk management” really means “extra work for the same pay”, you can make it easy for them by providing risk check lists. The check list can just be a small list of known risks that must be considered before a process can proceed to the next stage. This will encourage your team members to think about risks and through this awareness uncover other risks or issues that might affect the project.
By the end of Project Think, you should be able to answer the question implied in the title, “Why (do) Good Managers Make Poor Project Choices”, but more importantly you will know that poor decisions need not be an inevitable consequence of the human condition. Choice engineering is an easy to implement framework that will encourage your project members to make good decisions.