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:
- See No Evil
- When teams share information among themselves, they have their best opportunity to reach peak performance.
And when some information is withheld within an elite group, the team faces unique risks.
- The Injured Teammate: I
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is very ill or has been severely injured. How do you
handle it? How do you break the news? What does the team need? What do you need?
- The Politics of the Critical Path: II
- The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion
date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience
the unique politics of the critical path.
- Why Scope Expands: I
- Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction,
has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?
- False Summits: I
- Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing
the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
- And on July 10: Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on July 10.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.