When we succeed, we rarely have difficulty finding possible explanations. People tend to volunteer them, especially if they're seeking personal credit. But when we fail, candidate explanations can be more difficult to uncover, even when we gather for sessions intended to find those explanations.
When we work as groups to learn what might be the underlying causes of failures, we can encounter patterns that create obstacles to learning. I cataloged some of them back in 2012, but I've since encountered a few more.
The scene is a group session convened to determine what we might do better, what we might stop doing, or what we might start doing. I'll use the names Willis or Wanda for the person who is withholding information.
- Withholding in case of plausible ignorance
- When Wanda has a critical piece of information, but feels that it might reflect badly on her, or on someone who might retaliate if she reveals it, she is inclined to withhold it if she feels certain that nobody else knows that she knows.
- Psychological safety is a prerequisite for productive retrospectives. Learn how to establish it, and how to verify that you have it.
- Withholding when misapprehension is clear
- Even though Willis believes that people misunderstand what happened, he doesn't offer his view of the events, for reasons similar to Wanda's above.
- Do what you can to verify that the interpretation of events you believe is shared is actually shared. Ask open-ended questions about how things could have gone differently, and what would have been necessary for other things to happen.
- Intentionally underplaying or slanting
- In a Do what you can to verify
that the shared interpretation
of events is actually sharedtechnique commonly known as spinning, Wanda presents a slanted view of the information she's disclosing.
- Watch for "weasel words" — constructions that present an impression of substance, but which are unattributed, or so ambiguous, or so cleverly hedged that Wanda can later claim, "I never said that."
- Hiding critical information in clouds of irrelevance
- When Willis feels compelled to disclose something he'd rather withhold, he can bury it in other spew he doesn't mind revealing. For example, in claiming that he knew in advance that a certain wrong-headed decision should never have been made, he might not explicitly mention his own absence from the meeting that made that decision.
- Clear away the fluff. Maintain a focus on the purpose of the exercise.
- Withholding relevant information unless specifically requested
- Here Wanda withholds a critical fact, and everything related to it, unless someone happens to probe for it.
- Ask broad, random, open questions: "Does anyone know anything about any email messages that never arrived?" Spread a wide net that will oblige everyone with related information to speak up. Special safety measures might be required. For example, consider accepting anonymous responses.
I'm still gathering entries for this catalog. If you have candidates, rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.comsend them along. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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About Point Lookout
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More articles on Project Management:
- Are You Changing Tactics or Moving the Goal Posts?
- When we make a mid-course correction in a project, we're usually responding to a newly uncovered difficulty
that requires a change in tactics. Sometimes, we can't resist the temptation to change the goals of
the project at the same time. And that can be a big mistake.
- Project Improvisation as Group Process
- When project plans contact reality, things tend to get, um, a bit confused. We can sometimes see the
trouble coming in time to replan thoughtfully — if we're nearly clairvoyant. Usually, we have
to improvise. How a group improvises tells us much about the group.
- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable
to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion
of control" — might provide explanations.
- Wishful Thinking and Perception: II
- Continuing our exploration of causes of wishful thinking and what we can do about it, here's Part II
of a little catalog of ways our preferences and wishes affect our perceptions.
- How We Waste Time: II
- We're all pretty good at wasting time. We're also fairly certain we know when we're doing it. But we're
much better at it than we know. Here's Part II of a little catalog of time wasters, emphasizing those
that are outside — or mostly outside — our awareness.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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