Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 52;   December 28, 2005:

Nine Project Management Fallacies: III

by

Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.

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."

Chocolate chip cookies

In 1997, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts adopted a bill proposed by the third grade class of a school in Somerset, and thereby designated the chocolate chip cookie as the official state cookie of Massachusetts. Photo courtesy Lara Schneider.

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 Go to top Top  Next issue: The Uses of Empathy  Next Issue

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Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

"Taking an observation at the pole."The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager
The hands-on project manager manages the project and performs some of the work, too. There are lots of excellent hands-on project managers, but the job is inherently risky, and it's loaded with potential conflicts of interest.
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We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
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Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction, has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?
An A-10 Thunderbolt II over Afghanistan in 2011Down in the Weeds: I
When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can we do about it?
The Perito Moreno Glacier in ArgentinaUnresponsive Suppliers: II
When a project depends on external suppliers for some tasks and materials, supplier performance can affect our ability to meet deadlines. How can communication help us get what we need from unresponsive suppliers?

See also Project Management and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
Two people engaged in pair collaborationAnd on April 28: The Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

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