Peter loved his chocolate chip cookies, but he liked this conversation with Trish and Nan even more. Holding his hands over the side of his chair to brush the cookie crumbs off them onto the ground, he added "And his discussion of wishful thinking was really insightful."
Nan broke off a tiny chunk of her cookie, ate it, and sipped her coffee. "Mmmm, I thought so too," she said. "Knowing that we fall into these fallacy traps because of our humanness made me more accepting of it, less guilty."
Trish was puzzled. "Yeah, but how does that help the project?"
"That's just it," said Nan. "Knowing that the fallacies are part of being human makes it easier to acknowledge these errors when we make them."
Peter finished Nan's thought. "And that way we can own up to them faster, maybe even before they do any damage."
Fallacies aren't just false. Because they have a deep connection to what we are as human beings, they'll never go away. Here's Part III 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, and for Part IV, see "Nine Project Management Fallacies: IV," Point Lookout for January 11, 2006.
- The Fungibility Fallacy
- The Fungibility Fallacy holds that each person produces one hour of output in one hour, and that we can substitute people for one another. Terms that suggest this fallacy are man-month headcount and FTE.
- Often, only a few people can perform certain tasks. Using the project management tools that distinguish the skills of large numbers of unique individuals takes time and effort, and even then they produce somewhat fictitious results.
- And running "lean and mean" makes the problem worse. If you count the cost of delays and lost market windows due to overloading key people, running a little "fatter and kinder" might actually be more profitable.
- The Linearity Fallacy
- Fallacies have
a deep connection
to what we are
as human beings
- This fallacy holds that the human effort required to execute a project scales in proportion to project attributes such as project size or total budget.
- Not only do operating costs per unit of output grow rapidly with project size, but the converse is also true: costs decline unexpectedly slowly as we scale the project down in size. This happens because we have difficulty abandoning control processes as we move down in size. We lose in both directions.
- Project management is an inherently nonlinear activity. The complexity of an effort grows not in proportion to the effort, but combinatorially with the size of the effort, following the growth in the number of possible person-to-person interactions with increasing team size.
These two fallacies both arise because of our hopes and wishes. We long for a world where we can substitute any person for any other; for a world where doubling resources halves the schedule. But longing doesn't make it so. In the next and final installment of this series we'll look at fallacies that arise from failures of critical thinking. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Nine 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
- 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?
- Down in the Weeds: II
- To be "down in the weeds," in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of
detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here's Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing
with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.
- Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure
of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can
determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects.
- Anticipating Absence: How
- Knowledge workers are professionals who "think for a living." When they suddenly become unavailable
because of the pandemic, we consider substituting someone else. But substitutes need much more than
skills and experience to succeed.
See also Project Management and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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