Trish sipped her coffee and set down the paper cup. Missing her own coffee mug was one thing she hated about off-sites. "I didn't quite get some of those fallacies," she said to Nan. "They're a little confusing."
Nan nodded. "Yeah, me too. But what did he say about that — something about the confusion is what makes them so common?"
Just then, Peter came through the doorway, carrying a paper cupful of coffee and three huge chocolate chip cookies wrapped in a napkin. He sat down in the empty chair next to Nan.
Nan smiled at Peter and, gazing at the cookies, she said, "Peter, how nice of you to think of us."
Peter smiled back, took a cookie, and pushed the others to Nan. Then he turned to Trish. "So what's your favorite project fallacy?"
Trish reached for a cookie. "I don't know," she said. "We were just saying that they're a bit confusing."
"Yeah," said Nan. "I think he was saying that their wrongness is so subtle that we just accept them as conventional wisdom."
And so it is with most fallacies. Their subtlety makes them durable. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the fallacies of project management. For Part I, see "Nine Project Management Fallacies: I," Point Lookout for November 30, 2005, and for Part III, see "Nine Project Management Fallacies: III," Point Lookout for December 28, 2005.
- The Naturalistic Fallacy
- A cousin of the Fundamental Attribution Error, this fallacy holds that professional credentials — experience, education, seniority, or past performance — are equivalent to abilities. For instance, if a particular project manager led a few projects that failed, we conclude that he or she is incapable.
- Judgments based on credentials and past performance alone are likely to omit from consideration the past prevailing context, which might have been a significant contributor to past results.
- To assess the capabilities of a person, an organization, a technology, or a design, consider not only credentials and past performance, but also contextual factors.
- The Culturalistic Fallacy
- We commit It is their subtlety
that makes fallacies
so durablethis fallacy when we believe that the project manager, or some other organizational leader, creates a high performance team, without the assistance or influence of the people who belong to that team.
- To measure the prevalence of this fallacy, track the attributed causes of team performance. In organizations where the credit for high performance tends to flow to leaders, while the blame for dysfunction tends to flow to team members, it's likely that the Culturalistic Fallacy is at work.
- While any one person can undermine a team's performance, no single person is responsible for creating high performance. External factors certainly contribute, but a team's performance is most directly due to the choices of the members of that team.
These two fallacies are related — the Naturalistic Fallacy undervalues contextual factors, while the Culturalistic Fallacy undervalues the contributions of people. They're two different ways to misperceive reality. In Part III, we'll look at fallacies based on wishful thinking. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Dispersity Adversity
- Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse
and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face.
Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.
- Guidelines for Sharing "Resources"
- Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided
responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they
share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
- On the Risk of Undetected Issues: II
- When things go wrong and remain undetected, trouble looms. We continue our efforts, increasing investment
on a path that possibly leads nowhere. Worse, time — that irreplaceable asset — passes.
How can we improve our ability to detect undetected issues?
- Wishful Interpretation: II
- Wishful "thinking," as we call it, can arise in different ways. One source is the pattern
of choices we make when we interpret what we see, what we hear, or any other information we receive.
Here's Part II of an inventory of ways our preferences and wishes affect how we interpret the world.
- Missing the Obvious: II
- With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised
us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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