Biased decision-making cannot be avoided

Success Problem

We as humans are well aware that we are driven by cognitive biases which impact also the outcome from decision-making processes. We have natural preferences, are too optimistic, or often go even by gut feelings when it comes to decision-making. In project management, this phenomenon is often leading to what is called the planning fallacy as we are usually underestimating efforts that will be required to deliver work items, we often underestimate the cost of delivery, and we underestimate risks that may impact project outcomes. Often - and we can see an increase over the years - such flaws are leading to project delivery failures.


A lot has been written and researched about cognitive biases and their impact, hence there is awareness of their existence and their consequences. As a result, we keep trying to reduce or eliminate such negative impacts on the decision-making processes, e.g. with processes that enable decisions to be made in groups from different interested parties, to ensure sound and informed decisions. Or we simply give us more time to come up with a decision. Such an attempt to address biases in decision-making however is not resolving the problem, it rather replaces one bias with another - in other words, it's like going from bad to worse. Because taking decisions in groups is introducing another bias which is called group-think, with people becoming less risk-averse when decisions taken in groups, as it kind of takes the accountability for a decision away from one single individual and distributes this across various shoulders. Naturally, some people just follow the majority vote while others simply feel more at ease with a risky decision. Delaying the decision to spend more time for the process also could backfire, as it could lead to an approach that will be characterized by something commonly known as "analysis paralysis" - in other words, we overthink the problem and this way miss the right time for a decision.


Don't address cognitive biases with another bias, and stop trying to eliminate decision-making biases. We cannot address it the "human" way. Instead, we have to leverage data and include it in the decision-making process. Especially in project management, a lot of data is not being used, mainly due to flawed processes and behaviors. A change in behaviors of project professionals is needed to make use of existing as well as past project data - we need to standardize, store, and share the data across all projects.



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