It’s hard to admit that your project is failing

Friday, November 1st, 2013 By Jack Nevison

Studies show that most projects fail, but how often do those working on a project stand up and admit that what they are doing just isn't working? Not often enough, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

Contributor Gretchen Gavett cited an excerpt from the book "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, who once worked for the Israeli Ministry of Education to create a new high school textbook.

A problem soon arose.

At first, the group estimated that they could complete the book in two years. When pressed however, the team leader admitted that they would be operating with somewhat fewer skills and resources than similar teams that had taken seven years to complete similar projects.

In spite of this admission, the team leader did not alter the book's estimated completion date.

"[T]here was no connection in his mind between his knowledge of the history of other teams and his forecast of our future," Kahneman wrote of the project leader." In fact, it took eight years for them to finish the book, and after all that effort, it was never used by the Ministry of Education.

As Gavett notes, people hesitate to sound the alarm about a troubled project because "the culture of project management often discourages the raising of important red flags that could turn problem projects around."

Gavett quoted Matthew McWha, practice manager at CEB, who said that: "There's a lot of perceived personal risk in saying, 'I'm managing a failing project.' Or people actually think they can turn it around, so they don't bring it up.'"

New Leaf's program, "Managing Risk and Making Decisions," and our free white paper, "Good Estimates and Bad Biases," both of which use the work of Daniel Kahneman, can help you make realistic project estimates from the beginning.

Additionally, New Leaf's online estimating game, QPM, offers affordable ways to learn while you earn PDUs for PMP recertification.

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"QPM™" is a registered mark of New Leaf Project Management. All rights reserved.

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