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:
- An Agenda for Agendas
- Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed"
agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?
- The Injured Teammate: II
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is suddenly very ill or has been severely injured. How
do you handle it? Here are some suggestions for breaking the news to the team.
- Project Improvisation Fundamentals
- Project plans are useful — to a point. Every plan I've ever seen eventually has problems when
it contacts reality. At that point, we replan or improvise. But improvisation is an art form. Here's
Part I of a set of tips for mastering project improvisation.
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: II
- Personnel-sensitive risks are risks that are difficult to discuss openly. Open discussion could infringe
on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't
discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
- Projects as Proxy Targets: II
- Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins,
some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
- Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.
- And on August 19: Motivated Reasoning: I
- When we prefer a certain outcome of a decision process, we risk falling into a pattern of motivated reasoning. That can cause us to gather data and construct arguments that lead to the outcome we prefer, often outside our awareness. And it can happen even when the outcome we prefer is known to threaten our safety and security. Available here and by RSS on August 19.
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