Is the Enemy Us or Fate? (1 of 5)

One recent morning I was enjoying the company of my peers at the monthly PMI-Silicon Valley Chapter’s PMO Breakfast meeting.  As usual the conversation had degraded (a hardware perspective) to a discussion of software methodologies, that day specifically: When using Agile, how do you handle …?  Then out of the blue one of the participants threw a perspective on the table – “From the outset, all projects are doomed to failure.”  Interesting pronouncement!  My corollary; the PM’s role is to snatch projects from the jaws of defeat (?). Being a grizzled veteran PM, I can’t agree with the speaker’s perspective, although at times I have taken over a project with that specific objective.  My perspective is, “Most projects fail because of people, not predestined fate.”  However, I do need to point out that typically there is no single cause of failure, but a number of related factors.

My train of musings resulting from the pronouncement did prompt me to collect my thoughts on the subject of the PM’s possible role in project failure – Why do some projects/PMs succeed, while others fail?  Certainly a major portion of it has to do with our individual human psychological factors.

Now, I know I mentioned psychology (don’t panic) and truth be known this is where most of this soft-stuff comes from; my intent is to keep it simple and understandable.  We are going to do some thinking about thinking. One of the classic failure questions is, what were they thinking or how could they been so stupid, when they …. ? What we’re really asking is, why didn’t they reach the solution that is obvious in hind-sight?  We as individuals, as teams, and as organizations have built-in limitations.

Nobel Prize-winner Herbert Simon postulated that we are boundedly rational (cognitively limited – not Vulcans) in information gathering and analysis.  In that light, we are going to look at how cognitive biases (things that limit our thinking), mental framing (our perspectives) and reasoning by analogy (our ability to use past experiences) play a role in a PM’s approach to all aspects of the project, whether planning, communicating, decision making, problem solving, etc.  In the concluding summary we will look at complex and ambiguous situations, because these are the real project killers and the more complex the project the higher the probability that ambiguities, non-linearities and discontinuities will arise.

Please join me in this series of blog post, as we dive a little deeper in our approaches to situations.  I hope to provide you with an understanding of your own limitations and, as a result, give you pause to question your decisions, solutions, and actions.

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