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Managing biases that affect project decision-making

PA Consulting’s global head of delivery, Paul Adamson, discusses how project managers can best manage bias and how they can overcome these challenges.

The article states that biases are evident in all walks of life. They may be deliberate or subconscious, but however they materialise, they affect your decisions.

There are over 180 psychological biases that humans – including project professionals – are prone to. For example, optimism bias leading to planning fallacy – the tendency to overstate the forecasted benefits of a project and to understate the timescales and costs.

Tackling bias is easier said than done. Even recognition and experience of bias don’t automatically change our mindsets.

So how can we manage bias – if at all?

Project professionals can use corrective uplifts to tackle optimism bias. These increase estimates of a project’s costs by as much as 30 per cent, and decrease and delay the receipt of estimated benefits.

Paul says: “Past learnings are there, but biased people will wilfully tune down the negative side and tune up the positive side.” Instead, he believes in the power of communication.

“Project managers need a safe space where they can talk to third-party stakeholders and identify biases,” Paul adds. “Don’t listen to the nodding donkeys around you. Talk to those without skin in the game. ‘Is it time to change course?’ This does not happen often enough.”

The pandemic could mean more answers are needed.

Remote working could also lead to more ‘stressed’ projects. “Optimism biases will be identified at a later stage because we’ve been working remotely,” Paul says. “Project managers are not being challenged by others. They need to go that extra mile and ask more questions to ensure they and their teams are digging in against biases.”

Read the full article in Association for Project Management

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