An important concept for project leaders to understand are the mental traps (shortcuts) used to cope with the complexity inherent in most decisions. An excellent overview of mental traps is this infographic via Towergate Insurance.
Towergate’s infographic identified 10 mental biases:
- Bandwagon: doing something based on those around you
- Availability: overuse of most recent or easily attainable information
- Dunning-Kruger Effect: unskilled and unaware of it
- Framing: reacting differently based on how subject was presented
- Confirmation: seeing only what one wants to see
- Curse of Knowledge: assuming others know what you do
- Reluctance: desire to do the opposite of that being advised
- Sunk Cost: remaining committed to that which resources have been invested against best interest moving forward
- Hindsight: believing an event could have been predicted
- Anchoring Effect: using irrelevant information
I’ll add three additional types of biases to be aware:
- Analogy: missing important differences between past and present cases
- Vividness: overly influenced by alluring images and opportunities
- Instant response: decision making based on emotion, not reason
I believe confirmation bias to be particularly important in project management.
Confirmation bias refers to an instinctive tendency to pay more attention to information that supports pre-conceived ideas or to dismiss contradictory information. In other words, we don’t go out of our way to prove ourselves wrong. For project managers, this can include searching narrowly for information that confirms our plans, schedules and progress is correct.
From my experience, project leaders must be especially cognizant of falling into a confirmation trap.
Why would project managers seek confirmation instead of intently hunting for early warning signs of potential issues or problems? I believe there are many reasons, but one commonly seen is the tendency for organizations to reward those who bring good news and ostracize those who are bearer of bad news. Project managers, therefore, learn to develop a bias (even unconsciously) of disregarding the early warning signs that contradict the project’s plans and instead hope things work out well in the end.
This bias can have serious consequences to a project. If project organizations instead reward project members to seek and to bring forward potentially ‘bad’ news, this would serve to counter the tendency of confirmation bias and incentivize all members to remain alert for potential issues that affect the project’s plans or outcome.
EXIT QUESTION: Can we start a bandwagon movement of project organizations rewarding bad news?