Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 48;   November 30, 2005: Nine Project Management Fallacies: I

Nine Project Management Fallacies: I

by

Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we "know" just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.

Nan pushed the door open, and she and Trish stepped out of the conference center into the morning air. On their first break from the off-site meeting, they hadn't quite yet relaxed from the pressure cooker that was the final stretch of Marigold, their latest project. It hadn't gone well, and they were all spending three days trying to figure out what happened.

Two colleagues chatting on their morning break"So what do you think?" Nan opened.

"I've been to off-sites before," said Trish. "But this is the first time I've felt hopeful that truth would come out."

Nan agreed. "Me too. I liked the bit about myths and fallacies."

Nan sat down on one of the plastic chairs. Trish sat too. "But knowing these fallacies," she asked, "won't we just get better at fooling ourselves? If we could get any better which I seriously doubt."

Nan smiled. "Well, I think his point was that by naming the fallacies, it gets harder to use them."

And Nan is right about that. By naming the fallacies, the patterns become obvious to everyone, which deters us from using them. Here's Part I of a little catalog of the fallacies of project management. For Part II, see "Nine Project Management Fallacies: II," Point Lookout for December 14, 2005.

Universal awareness
of common fallacies
deters us all
from using them
The Fallacy of Positivism
The Fallacy of Positivism holds that if we believe we can accomplish something, we're more likely to actually accomplish it; and inversely, if we express doubts about accomplishing something, we're less likely to execute it successfully.
This fallacy is especially tempting to leaders who want to motivate reluctant teams to attempt (or keep trying to do) the impossible. They're using it as a tool of manipulation.
All things being equal, it's probably helpful to have a positive attitude. But Truth is most important. Be positive when it's appropriate, and express doubts when they're real and relevant. Both staying positive and expressing doubt inappropriately can lead to catastrophe.
The Bad Actor Fallacy
If a team exhibits a repeated pattern of dysfunction, we commit the Bad Actor Fallacy when we assume that one single team member is the likely cause of the problem.
Isolating the cause of a team problem to a single individual is tempting because it suggests that dealing with that individual can resolve the problem. No need for messy and expensive team interventions; no need for involving more than one person.
While it's possible for a single individual to keep a team in a state of dysfunction, more typically many individuals contribute to team problems. Team performance is an attribute of the team's system, and the organization in which that team is embedded.

One more fallacy is perhaps most common: the Purity Fallacy, which holds that we are personally pure: we never use fallacies ourselves. We all use them, of course — we're human. The trick is to catch yourself when you do.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Comfortable Ignorance  Next Issue

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Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

Chocolate chip cookiesNine Project Management Fallacies: III
Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
The Bay of Whales off the Ross Ice Shelf, AntarcticaHow to Make Good Guesses: Strategy
Making good guesses — guessing right — is often regarded as a talent that cannot be taught. Like most things, it probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make conjectures. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that.
John Frank Stevens, who conceived the design and method of construction of the Panama CanalPower Distance and Risk
Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and to question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk.
A vial of COVID-19 vaccineCost Concerns: Scale
When we consider the costs of problem solutions too early in the problem-solving process, the results of comparing alternatives might be unreliable. Deferring cost concerns until we fully understand the problem can yield more options and better decisions.
A street sign at Maxwell Air Force Base, AlabamaJoint Leadership Teams: OODA
Some teams, business units, or enterprises are led not by individuals, but by joint leadership teams of two or more. They face special risks that arise from the organizations that host them, from the team they lead, or from within the joint leadership team itself.

See also Project Management and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Old books, the standard symbol of knowledgeComing April 17: How to Answer When You Don't Know How to Answer
People engaged in knowledge work must often respond to questions that test the limits of their knowledge, or the limits of everyone's knowledge. Responding effectively to such questions advances us all. Available here and by RSS on April 17.
Three gears in a configuration that's inherently locked upAnd on April 24: Antipatterns for Time-Constrained Communication: 1
Knowing how to recognize just a few patterns that can lead to miscommunication can be helpful in reducing the incidence of problems. Here is Part 1 of a collection of communication antipatterns that arise in technical communication under time pressure. Available here and by RSS on April 24.

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