How do I manage someone with a cognitive bias?

Friday, November 8th, 2013 By Jack Nevison

Avoiding biases is a crucial part of being an effective project manager. Leaders who do not make careful decisions, weighing pros and cons equally, tend to experience unwanted consequences from their poor judgment. Countless projects have failed as a result of a manager's biases.

Unfortunately, just because you are a rational manager does not mean that everyone on your team will be like you.Unfortunately, just because you are a fair-minded manager does not mean that everyone who works under you will be the same. 

Consider the case of former JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson, as presented by Harvard Business Review contributor Maurice Ewing. Johnson made big waves in the business world when he joined the company, as many expected the former Senior Vice President of Retail Operations at Apple to have revolutionary ideas that could turn the struggling company around. While Johnson certainly had ideas, they didn't seem to fit well with his new company. In fact, some argue that his decision to force the Apple model of pricing on the company—thereby forgoing sales—only made JC Penney's situation worse. He was fired in short order.

Johnson likely suffered from a bias after working for a successful company like Apple. Based on his prior success, Johnson would naturally think that the Apple sales model would work in any industry. But not all sales models are created equal.

Biases most blatantly affect the estimation of work and schedule in planning a project. To reduce biases in projects the planners should: get more data on comparable tasks, break tasks into smaller sub-tasks, and estimate each piece with a low, likely and high (range) estimate.

New Leaf specializes in less-biased project work estimation. Our free white paper, "Embracing the Dragon's Tail," details the best ways to avoid bias. Additionally, our series of QPM games lets you practice estimating while you earn PDU credits for PMP recertification.

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