Ten Project Management Fallacies:
The Power of Avoiding Hazards

There's a famous quote, attributed to at least a half-dozen of the brightest observers of human behavior: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." And so it is in project management. This program explores ten of those widely-held beliefs that "just ain't so."

Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them.

Ten Project Management Fallacies

Lord Kelvin (left), who once expressed skepticism about heavier-than-air flight

Here's an example. We all know that every person is unique. But in projecting or reporting the effort required to perform a task, we assume that every person produces one hour of output in one hour. And we also assume that we can substitute people for one another — maybe not everyone for everyone, but we do believe we can make some substitutions without changing our projections. One piece of evidence for these beliefs is our use of terms such as man-month, person-month, man-year, person-year, headcount, and FTE (full-time-equivalent). And who can deny ever hearing something like, "Can I swap you Jeff for Jennifer for a couple weeks?"

Even more telling are the capabilities of the software we use to model our projects. Generally, accounting for the differences in capabilities and productivity of particular individuals is a weakness of most software tools. Those tools that do offer some capability in this area are difficult to use, and often produce unreliable results.

The belief that most people are equally productive and equally capable is what I call the Fungibility Fallacy. It's responsible for much of the delay and confusion in project-oriented organizations, because some people have skills that are rare in the organization. We try to schedule our projects so as to avoid making these people bottlenecks, but projects are by nature somewhat unpredictable. If one of the projects for which one of these people is scheduled happens to slip a bit, that slip affects other projects, and delays ripple through the organization like wildfire.

What to do about this, and how to avoid it, is one of the topics we cover in this program. There are nine more such fallacies. Imagine working in a project-oriented organization that successfully, and by design, avoids the hazards these false beliefs generate!

This program is available as a keynote, workshop, seminar, breakout, or clinic. For the shorter formats, coverage of the outline below is selective.

This insight-filled program deals with issues such as:

  • Why do so many organizations fall for these fallacies so easily and so often?
  • How can we explain to senior management that their expectations can't be met?
  • What can we do when people claim that some of these fallacies are actually true?
  • To deal with the reality instead of the fantasy would require software that doesn't exist, or would take way too much work. What can I do?

Learning objectives

Participants learn how widely believed these fallacies can be. This program applies not only to project management, but also to management in general. Learning objectives include:

  • Ten fallacies of project management
  • How to manage the risks generated by the ten fallacies
  • What situations create elevated probabilities of adverse consequences from each of the fallacies
  • What situations create the most significant likelihood of affecting project plans
  • How to explain the fallacies to project teams
  • How to explain the fallacies to senior management
  • How the fallacies affect strategic planning
  • How the fallacies affect general management

Program structure and content

We learn through presentation, discussion, exercises, simulations, and post-program activities. We can tailor a program for you that addresses your specific challenges, or we can deliver a tried-and-true format that has worked well for other clients. Participants usually favor a mix of presentation, discussion, and focused exercises.

Based on attendee interest, topics will include, for example:

  • The ten project management fallacies
  • Managing risks generated by the ten fallacies
  • Determining the affects of the ten fallacies on organizational design and procedures
  • Educating project teams about the ten fallacies
  • Educating managers about the ten fallacies

Whether you're a veteran of project management, or a relative newcomer to it, this program is a real eye-opener.

Learning model

We usually think of project management skills as rather technical — free of emotional content. We hold this belief even though we know that our most difficult situations can be highly charged. Despite our most sincere beliefs, taking a project organization to the next level of performance does require learning to apply knowledge management skills even in situations of high emotional content. That's why this program uses a learning model that differs from the one often used for technical content.

Our learning model is partly experiential, which makes the material accessible even during moments of stress. Using a mix of presentation, simulation, group discussion, and metaphorical team problems, we make available to participants the resources they need to make new, more constructive choices even in tense situations.

Target audience

Leaders and managers and technical project team members. Participants should have experienced at least six months as a member of a technical project team.

Program duration

Available formats range from one hour to one dayfff.

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