I can’t prove it but my intuition tells me that most project managers will respond affirmatively to the following question:

Do you believe your project will end up being a success?

This intuition of mine is not entirely baseless. Known psychological study have identified, for instance, that 90% of drivers rate themselves as better drivers than the average driver.

In our own project management field, the very fact that a considerable number of projects end up in failure (what ever ‘failure’ actually means) is a clear sign that at least a number of project managers (quite a few in fact) start their project endeavour with some level of delusional hopes.

Now, if you are one of those (just like me) who would be willing to bet right now that their next project will be a successful one, shouldn’t you be pausing for a second and asking yourself why the hell do you think you are special? What makes you think you are different? What special skills and knowledge do you posses that others don’t? Like the driver above, should you not at least consider the possibility that your next project, if nothing else, will be amongst the large number of projects of which we read day in and day out, the ones that end up in some form of failure?

The above behaviour is beautifully explained in Daniel Kahneman’s latest book “Thinking, Fast and Slow“. It is a result of a number of psychological effects, most specifically our inability to integrate our knowledge of known statistics into assessing our own position. The ratio of projects that fail is publicly known to be substantial. This ratio needs to be taken as the base rate, as  the standard against which our own project needs to be measured. Now, whether your project is “special” and should  be awarded a different chance of failure is a matter of more contemplation. Being “special” does not necessarily mean that your chances of success are better, as they could  easily mean that your chances are lower than the standard base rate.

Not considering the industry base rate is a self-inflicted deficiency which we are all subjected to. We all read, hear and discuss failures in other projects but fail miserably to see the implications of this information on our very own project – because we are blind to our own weaknesses and our own ‘average-ness’.

The reasons for our irrational behaviour is explained by Daniel Kahneman as follows:

  • “We focus on our goal, anchor on our plan, and neglect relevant base rates, exposing ourselves to the planning fallacy.
  • We focus on what we want to do and can do, neglecting the plans and skills of others.
  • Both in explaining the past and in predicting the future, we focus on the causal role of skill and neglect the role of luck. We are therefore prone to an illusion of control.
  • We focus on what we know and neglect what we do not know, which makes us overly confident in our beliefs.”

The take from this is simple. Although you are special (well, we all are) it is unlikely that your project is outstandingly different to all other projects and you should therefore consider your position vis-a-vis other projects. Given that a large proportion of other projects is likely to fail make sure you adjust your estimates such they present a less optimistic and thus more realistic outcome.

Think about it!

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