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.  Nine Project Management Fallacies: II Next issue in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Comfortable Ignorance  Next Issue

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More articles on Project Management:

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Regarding defects as elements of a stream provides a perspective that aids in identifying causes other than negligence. Examples of root causes are unfunded mandates, misallocation of the cost of procedure competence, and frequent changes in procedures.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceComing July 3: Additive bias…or Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
The standard conception of delegationAnd on July 10: On Delegating Accountability: I
As the saying goes, "You can't delegate your own accountability." Despite wide knowledge of this aphorism, people try it from time to time, especially when overcome by the temptation of a high-risk decision. What can you delegate, and how can you do it? Available here and by RSS on July 10.

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