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A Socio-cognitive Perspective of Project Failure

Northumbria Research Conference 2014

Alex Hope

on 26 October 2016

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Transcript of A Socio-cognitive Perspective of Project Failure

The problem with projects
"Project managers are more likely to make biased decisions in time constrained conditions and when data is scarce"
A Socio-Cognitive Perspective of Project Failure
88% are past deadline, over budget or both...
Average cost overrun is 189%
Average time overrun is 222%
Project Failure
Research Question
How do tools and techniques in the PMBoKs influence or create bias in project management decisions?
"Evidence suggests that the use of the PMBoK contributes to professionally induced bias, although this may be substituted with experience over time"

"Like other human endeavors, project management practice is influenced by bias"
"Some project management practices may indirectly contribute to behaviors which promote flawed project decisions and consequently lead to failed projects."
Socio-Cognitive Bias
Social interactions within the project management practice and academic communities are spread though linguisitc mechanisms such as the professional body of knowledge
Mechanisms, such as the body of knowledge, cover expectations (of behavior and actions) and methodologies of achieving them.
"A cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion"
Survey questionnaire
Sample constrained to PMI Certified PMs
What is a Project?
"An individual or collaborative enterprise planned and designed to achieve a specific aim"
They don't always go to plan.....
HS2 Ltd has overshot its allocated £101million budget by £87million

Centre for Major Programme Management,University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School; McKinsey and the London School of Economics
Project Failure
Planning Variables
A discipline wide view
(Sutterfield, Friday-Stroud and Shivers-Blackwell, 2006; Wang and Huang. 2006)
(Patanakul and Aronson, 2012)
(de Bakker, Boonstra and Wortmann, 2010; Kendrick, 2003)
(Dvir and Lechler, 2004)
The Boeing 787 dreamliner was delivered 3 years late.... (and $18B over budget)

Why do projects fail?
Socio-cognition theory suggests a triadic determinism of environmental, cognitive and behavioral factors
The Iron Triangle
How are project managers influenced by professional bias?
Professionally Induced Bias
a mental conditioning brought about by the particularities of one's job.
Socio-cognitive Perspective
Politically Induced Bias
(Oz and Sosik, 2000)
(Flyberg, 2003)
(Barki, 2011; Drummond, 2011; Flyvbjerg, 2008)
Quasi-Experimental survey
Professional Induced Bias
Project Management Bodies of Knowledge
The questionnaire was designed to measure bias (implicit behavior) which project managers cannot directly link to their experience of the project management body of knowledege
Semi-Structured Interviews
Refine and explain statistical results
Semi-structured Interviews
Individuals learn behaviors, which inform action, judgement and decisions, mainly by replicating the actions of others
Socio-cognition in Project Management
Personal Experiences
Corporate Culture or Function
"Project managers are likely to use the PMBoK to support biased decision making in post rationalization mode"
Influence of the PMBoK
In order to simulate conditions similar to real life situations, the questionnaire (with the aid of technology) adapts situational and cognitive moderators in an experimental condition
128 Survey responses (90 valid) coupled with 5 interviews
Snapshot of results
Escalation of Committment (Sunk Cost)
Personal responsibility
Proximity to goal
Norm for consistency
Sunk cost
Reputation and incentive
In spite of the awareness of the possibility of cost overrun and consequent project failure, project managers choose to continue with the project as well as increase allocation
Project managers are disposed to preserving the organisation’s record of project success
While most respondents do perceive the PMBoK is the most reliable source of project management knowledge, the level at which they engage with the PMBoK was only moderate
The measure for overconfidence increased in the un-timed section compared to the time-constrained section
"A CERTIFIED Project manager is sufficiently equipped to manage most projects"
Project Success Criteria
Dr. Alex Hope

Moses Olufemi
Individuals knowledge is acquired through observation within social interaction
There is a dynamic (and complex) connection between project environment, PMBoK, and the project management behaviour of the project manager.
Tools such as contingency planning be adapted to cater for biased judgement. Given that time constraints induces some degree of bias, this implies that contingency plans should be more focused on time buffers compared to cost buffers
Also, PMO interventions should also provide effective mechanisms of minimizing information paucity.
Modifying the context of the PMBoK to reflect the realities of failed project and to empower project managers with performance improvement skills.
Full transcript