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

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: II
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.
A white shark off the California coastNine Project Management Fallacies: IV
Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Understanding these last three of the nine fallacies of project management helps reduce risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
Captain Robert F. Scott and most of his team returning from the South PoleProject Improvisation and Risk Management
When reality trips up our project plans, we improvise or we replan. When we do, we create new risks and render our old risk plans obsolete. Here are some suggestions for managing risks when we improvise.
Illustrating the concept of local maximumFalse Summits: II
When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end. The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is in project work.
Two F-22A raptors line up for refuelingSymbolic Self-Completion and Projects
The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonComing May 19: Pre-Decision Discussions: Reasoning
When we meet to resolve issues related to upcoming decisions, we sometimes rely on reasoning to help find solutions. Contributions to these discussions generally use mixtures of deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning. How do they differ, and what are their strengths and risks? Available here and by RSS on May 19.
A bullying managerAnd on May 26: Even "Isolated Incidents" Can Be Bullying
Many organizations have anti-bullying policies that address only repeated patterns of interpersonal aggression. Such definitions expose the organization and its people to the harmful effects of "isolated incidents" of interpersonal aggression, because even isolated incidents can be bullying. Available here and by RSS on May 26.

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