Lighthouse Project Management
The project was careening towards a cliff. The technical debt was accumulating, the money was running out and the client was making larger and more distracting changes. At the same time the research and background was inscrutable. The specifications were detailed and vouched for. Expectations were set and reenforced with everyone agreeing enthusiastically with the project vision. Apparently none of that mattered.
I doubled down, vowing to figure out what was really going on no matter what. Eventually I uncovered a force more insidious than the common threats so often championed as the big bad wolves of project management: I was up against psychological bias.
By definition those under the influence of a psychological bias have no idea it’s even there. Unlike more the obvious threats it’s unlikely that anyone will bring it to anyone else’s attention. Even though the project had everything going for it, ultimately it was being undermined by a threat in a blind spot. Worse still, because team member’s can’t see them my related questions seemed like a distraction.
Here’s what I was noticing: Stakeholders would pledge allegiance to the project’s described outcome but their actual behavior would sometimes threaten the project’s success. Stakeholders would say one thing (in support of the project) and then do something contradictory (endangering the project). Smart people would make bad choices. Here are some examples:
- An engineer would agree to a timeline and tech and then go off and incorporate a coding language or methodology that was completely new to the team which (of course) adds a precarious tower of unknowns.
- A client would sign off on a specification and a deadline and then insist on needless time-wasting changes during every review.
- A salesperson would promise the new client a smooth build and then make side deals that wreck any chance of quality on-time delivery.
If you haven’t experienced any of these as a project manager you’re lucky; all are rooted in Incentive-Caused Bias. Here’s how it works:
- The engineer has career ambitions that overshadow your project or is just plain…