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:
- Finger Puzzles and "Common Sense"
- Working on complex projects, we often face a choice between "just do it" and "wait, let's
think this through first." Choosing to just do it can seem to be the shortest path to the goal,
but it rarely is. It's an example of a Finger Puzzle.
- Flanking Maneuvers
- Historically, military logistics practice has provided a steady stream of innovations to many fields,
including project management. But project managers can learn even more if we investigate battlefield tactics.
- Design Errors and Group Biases
- Design errors can cause unwanted outcomes, but they can also lead to welcome surprises. The causes of
many design errors are fundamental attributes of the way groups function. Here is Part II of our exploration.
- Yet More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- Part III of our catalog of obstacles encountered in retrospectives, when we try to uncover why we succeeded
— or failed.
- The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we
tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
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- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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