Game Theory in Management

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Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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Do You Want To Be Right, Or Accepted?

Winning the Lottery With Project Management

They Don’t Call It “The Accidental Profession” For Nothin’

Project Management: Advancing Your Career, Saving Civilization

Collaboration: Timing Is Everything

Do You Want To Be Right, Or Accepted?

In a variation of the question in the title, Adele Tartaglia, in an excerpt from her book appearing on SelfGrowth.com, wrote this:

The “I’d rather be right than happy” attitudinal stance in life seems at first like conceit or egoism when it actually stems from the complete opposite as do most behaviors overtly appearing like self aggrandizement. All are based on deep insecurities, worthiness issues, self doubt, and self abnegation.[i]

Ms. Tartaglia does not appear to consider whether or not her assertion is right, or actually based on deep insecurities, worthiness issues, self doubt, and self abnegation, so I will save such an evaluation for some time when I’m feeling a bit more esoteric or combative.

Now, compare and contrast this assertion to the ideas that Thomas Kuhn advanced in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where he describes the cycle that generally greets all new scientific theories, especially those that represent a dramatic challenge to the ideas that are in wide acceptance at the time of the new theory’s introduction. Consistently the new theories, and the people who develop or support them, are sharply criticized – ridiculed, even – until such a time as the evidence supporting the new theory becomes virtually unavoidable. As the majority of scientists in the field begin to abandon the old theories and embrace the new, a Paradigm Shift occurs (Kuhn actually coined the term), and the “new” theory becomes the baseline – until still more evidence comes in that appears to challenge the existing ideas, and the whole cycle begins again. But note the reception that the person advancing the “right” idea encounters – rejection, ostracism, extreme criticism. And these are in circumstances where the science can be demonstrated to be valid using hard data, and reproducible in an experimental setting.

I understand very well that, when we discuss the so-called management sciences, a great deal of subjectivity has suddenly been injected into our experimental evaluations. In the macro economy (or even in the micro economy, if we are honest with ourselves) there are simply too many parameters or data elements to be able to precisely define or measure the dependent variables that drive a particular outcome. In simpler terms, we never really know all of the causal factors that went in to our successes, or failures. There’s simply too much going on to recognize, much less quantify into reproducible causality loops in an experimental setting. With nothing less than the optimal way of conducting management at stake, such an environment invites the introduction of unsupported (indeed, unsupportable) theories as legitimate management science – and when I say “unsupported,” I mean ideas that often represent examples of openly fraudulent analysis techniques. Examples include:

  • Risk Management, especially when they pretend to be able to quantify the future;
  • Communications management, particularly when they advise PMs to willy-nilly “engage stakeholders,” even those stakeholders who may be opposed to the project;
  • Asset managers who insist that a project’s at-completion costs can be accurately estimated from the data in the general ledger.

I could go on (and often do), but you see my point. Many of the things the PM community writ large accepts as valid practices or techniques really aren’t, and to challenge them in the least bit often means making the choice between being right (because the ideas being challenged really are silly), or being accepted by one’s peers who have embraced the popular “wisdom,” and can probably be counted on to react as other science advocates do when commonly-held notions are challenged, or even overturned outright.

So, when the PM practitioner considers the path forward, and the implications for career advancement (ProjectManagement.com’s April theme), the question remains – would you rather be right, or accepted?


[i] Tartaglia, Adele, “’I’d Rather Be Right Than Happy’ Identity, A New Solution,” from SelfGrowth.com, retrieved from http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/i-d-rather-be-right-than-happy-identity-a-new-solution on 23 April, 2016, 14:44 MDT.

Posted on: April 25, 2016 09:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Winning the Lottery With Project Management

Okay, maybe you can’t get a leg up on how to buy a winning lottery ticket using PM techniques, but the similarities between what Project Managers do and betting on unique future events unfolding a certain way are myriad. I got to thinking along these lines when I was asked what would I do if I were to win the lottery, specifically, would I go on working?

The more I thought about it, the more I came to recognize the parallels I alluded to in the first paragraph. I’m pretty sure that, should I come into fantastic wealth after buying a $2 lottery ticket, I would not continue working my present job (sorry, Cameron). It’s not that I don’t enjoy my work, or that I think I’m not very good at it. It’s just that project management tends to be pretty stressful. It’s axiomatic that something will not go as planned on every single project, leaving it to the PM to take the actions necessary to ensure the eventual outcome remains relatively as-predicted, even in ever-changing (or even chaotic) environments. Our friends, the asset managers, are comparatively free of such chaos as they execute their duties. Budgets, accounts receivable and payable, payroll – these business transactions are carried out in a highly formulaic fashion. It’s so formulaic, in fact, that in many instances it’s illegal to carry out such duties in anything other than the proscribed, mandated fashion.

PM, on the other hand, and as I’ve said multitudinous times, is a completely different animal. By definition a “project” is a unique endeavor, with identifiable beginning and ending dates. Being as it is a unique endeavor; the lessons learned from previous experiences may or may not be applicable. Some elements are universally analogous, sure, such as breaking the work down into sub-components (a Work Breakdown Structure), identifying the resources needed to accomplish the scope (a time-phased budget), and some sort of identifiable duration (a schedule). Go much further past that, though, and the universal truisms – and, therefore, reliably repeatable guidance – become far more rare.

But that doesn’t stop a plethora of self-identified experts from trying to push their ideas as universally applicable in the PM realm, no siree. Take, for example, our friends the communications specialists. If I’m subjected to one more article or talk about how all PMs are somehow duty-bound to “engage stakeholders,” I think I will communicate my opposition to such drivel by imitating the sound my Collie makes when he’s throwing up on the carpet at 3:00 a.m. Bonnie Cooper, writing on the Corporate Education Group website, states “One of the most critical aspects of project management is doing what's necessary to develop and control relationships with all individuals that the project impacts.”[i] Now, I’m sure Ms. Cooper is a very nice person, but this statement raises a few questions, to wit:

  • Is it even possible to identify all the individuals a given project impacts?
  • How do you “control” relationships? Anyone who even thinks this is possible has clearly never owned a pet cat.
  • On what basis do you assert that developing and controlling these relationships is “one of the most critical aspects” of PM? Can you point to a study where identical (or even similar) projects were undertaken, with relationship development and control present at a robust level on Project A, while absent on Project B, where Project A significantly out-performed Project B, with this stakeholder engagement stuff being the proximate (or even material) cause?

But it all sounds so great, doesn’t it? I mean, by controlling the relationships with everyone who’s affected (not “impacted,” unless the result of your project comes in to kinetic proximity to others) by the project, you can, to at least some degree, control the way the future unfolds, right? By spending energy on “stakeholder engagement,” doesn’t that lessen the chances of adversarial relationships spontaneously erupting, and thereby endangering your project?

Short answer: well, umm, not necessarily.

If Project Management techniques, such as risk, quality, or communication management, could alter the way the future unfolds, then, taken to their extreme, wouldn’t there be examples of their ability to do so in such a way as to represent extreme success, similar to winning millions off of a single lottery ticket? There aren’t, and they can’t. What they can do, however, is to better prepare the PM practitioner to deal with the way an uncertain future does unfold, and that increases your odds of success to something a bit better than one in 292,000,000.


[i] Cooper, Bonnie, “What You Must Know About Stakeholder Management,” retrieved from http://www.corpedgroup.com/resources/pm/WhatMustKnowStakeholder.asp on April 16, 2016, 2:00 p.m. MDT.

Posted on: April 18, 2016 08:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

They Don’t Call It “The Accidental Profession” For Nothin’

I have never met a medical doctor who came into the field after having done something different entirely, and then had an epiphany that they needed to learn how to heal people in order to continue with their chosen profession.  Ditto with accountants. But Project Management? It’s chocked full of them (people who suddenly realized they needed to understand PM, not how to heal people or set up a ledger).

Generally speaking, the people in the PM profession whom I’ve encountered got there in one of two ways: either they quickly grasped concepts such as Critical Path or Earned Value methodologies, and realized that there was a demand for such talent; or else they were doing something else entirely – usually some sort of engineering – and were put into a position of authority on some project work, and realized they were sorely lacking the skill set that would enable them to bring that work to a successful conclusion.  ProjectManagement.com (and, by extension, the whole Project Management Institute®) is useful for the professionals in the former category; but absolutely essential for those in the latter. What professional, handed a project assignment but realizing they need a higher level of expertise to accomplish the tasks at hand, has time to suspend work, and attend classes at a university?

Hence PM’s nickname as “the accidental profession.” It’s also interesting to note some of the adjunct versions of PM, and how different they are from our friends, the accountants. Ever heard of “Agile Accounting?” No? How about “Scrum Financing?” Still nothing? Well, there’s a reason for that.

Project Management’s ability to adapt to new and different circumstances is one of its reasons for existence. Before common access to management information tools such as Critical Path or Earned Value, managers who were responsible for actual project work lacked the information tools needed to ensure successful project delivery. As I’ve often asserted on this blog, the top 80th percentile managers who have access to 20% of the information they need to obviate a given decision will be consistently out-performed by the 20% worst managers who have access to 80% of the information so needed. But, since the Asset Managers dominated the field of business theory, the early project managers were at a distinct disadvantage. To seek an estimate of at-completion costs was to be presented with a projection based on the burn rate of the actual costs. A cost variance was the difference between the budget and the (again) actual costs. What’s the estimated completion date? Well, the management experts – at the time, accountants – were sure it had something to do with actual costs, or lists of milestones, or something like that.

Naturally, when better methods for providing the unique set of information that PMs needed became available, the existing management science gurus reacted the same way scientists have for centuries, when a new theory is proposed that is clearly better than the existing ones: they fought it with everything they had. The world’s first business school started in 1819, in Paris,[i] by which time the particulars of accounting had already been in existence for centuries (literally). PMI® didn’t start until 1969, when the field was still relatively new.  That’s 150 years exactly, 150 years of a specific set of management practices that had little formal recognition from the management sciences establishment. And yet, there is a distinct possibility that a Kuhnsian-type paradigm shift is emerging in business, whereby Project Management theory either is or will soon displace much of what passes for commonly-accepted precepts in the management sciences. These PM usurpers are not being forced on anybody – they’re being embraced out of discovered necessity, almost, well, accidentally.

In essence, while most of us may have swerved into the project management realm relatively accidentally, that its set of management science precepts should come to claim major areas of business practice is no accident.

It is, in fact, inevitable.


[i] Business school. (2016, March 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:02, April 10, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Business_school&oldid=708373426

Posted on: April 11, 2016 08:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Project Management: Advancing Your Career, Saving Civilization

I’ve had a lot of fun on this blog site making (mostly innocent) fun of our friends, the accountants, by pointing out the logical fallacies in many of their management science hypotheses, not the least of which is their idea that the overarching theme of all management is to “maximize shareholder wealth.” Of course, the whole raison’ de etre’ for Project Management as a discipline is to contest that idea, since PM is all about delivering a product or service to the customers’ parameters of scope, cost, and schedule. By transferring the focus of our efforts on the customer, rather than the company’s owners, we PM-types pursue a business approach that is not only inconsistent with the accountants’ world view, it’s actually in opposition to it.

Indeed, I would argue that the basic tenets of Project Management theory are intrinsic to everybody’s career advancement, and to prove it one must only answer a simple question: Why would anyone ever want to give you money? If you answered “in exchange for a good or service I rendered,” go to the head of the class. If you answered “because I maximized shareholder wealth,” then you are either in desperate need of remedial business school, or perfectly suited to write college-level textbooks on quantitative analysis, or both.

Your ability to quickly grasp what others want or need, and provide that to them, is key to any and, arguably, all of the success you will encounter in your career. From managers who need people who can sell merchandise and operate cash registers, to the owners themselves who seek to satisfy their customers’ demands, it is your ability to provide desired goods and services that determines your level of success. Again, the asset managers’ orientation is not set in that direction – but Project Management’s is.

On a larger scale, the shift in emphasis from satisfying the customers to maximizing shareholder wealth is one of the most distinctive indicators that an organization has transitioned from its ascendency and into its decline (for a more complete list of these signposts, check out my second book). The most obvious example of this has to do with the new business. Brand-new businesses seek to satisfy their clients, and their owners will often expend extraordinary effort, their own capital, and much overtime to make this happen. In other words, they will go full-throttle on executing the tenets of Project Management. If they’re smart, they will only think of their own remuneration after their customer base is established. The shift of majority focus away from the customer to the organization’s internal leadership inevitably leads to the organization’s eventual downfall and elimination from economic competition.

And, remember, that’s what the asset managers have been advising executives to do all along.

On an even larger scale, this shift in focus is also a harbinger of governments that have ceased existing for the good of their respective populations, and have begun expending energy and manipulating public policy to ensure the governing class’ own enrichment and continued survival, with the eventual outcome of tyranny and revolution. Fortunately, in capitalistic environs the decline and fall of companies is rarely accompanied by violence, as those companies who listened to the advice of the asset managers merely suffer as their PM-oriented competitors gain more and more market share, until the former ceases being on ongoing concern, and liquidates their remaining assets. But that does not exonerate those who maintain the hypothesis that the point of all management is to maximize shareholder wealth. Example after example, from small businesses, to larger organizations, and even governments, shows that this closely-held idea is actually detrimental to those organizations that embrace it, even on very large scales, i.e., civilization.

To summarize: Individuals and organizations in their ascendency further the goals of their clients and constituencies. Those in decline put the enrichment of the organization ahead of their clients and constituencies, which puts PM squarely on the side of the advancers, including career advancers. ProjectManagement.com’s blog readers are in those ranks.

Any questions?

Posted on: April 04, 2016 09:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Collaboration: Timing Is Everything

While many of my ProjectManagement.com co-contributors have focused on the benefits of collaboration, pitfalls of its absence, and tools or techniques that might help attain the former while avoiding the latter, I (predictably enough) want to take a slightly different tack. You want collaboration? It’s simple, really. Drawing from some pretty basic game theory, all you have to do is to time the payoff to as late as possible for each member of the project’s team. Did that last sound a little jargon-y? Let me put it this way: pay everybody else last.

Before I get into the longer explanation, let me stipulate this: if your organization’s approach to motivating employees is confined to threatening them with their jobs, forget about any honest collaboration. Any loyalty to your proffered technical or managerial approach is completely faked, period. The acid test here is this: if the PM were to suddenly be replaced, would there be any member of the project team who would assert that the previous PM’s technical approach be maintained, or would they reflexively embrace the new PM’s version? This approach to motivating the project team is typically confined to project teams where:

  • Each member belongs to the same organization,
  • Very little original thought is required of them, and
  • They are rewarded (or not punished) the same, regardless of project outcome.

In other words, projects where collaboration would be largely superfluous.

Conversely, the benefits of collaboration among team members are maximized when:

  • The members of the team are brought together for their expertise, not because they just happen to belong to the same organization,
  • Much invention or original thinking is called for, and perhaps most importantly,
  • …they receive their rewards only when (or if) the project is executed successfully.

Remember the iconic scene from The Mummy where protagonist Rick O’Connell confronts his one-time associate Beni about his plans to guide the Americans to the lost city of Hamunaptra? Beni admits that the preferred tactic of leading them into the desert to “let the rot” has been denied him because the Americans have paid him half of his fee, with the other half coming only after they have arrived in Hamunaptra.

Of course, not all attempts at project team collaboration are analogous to hiring a cunning opportunist to serve as tour guide to an ancient but treasure-laden city-of-the-dead. But many, if not most of them are. In typical, spontaneous acts of economic collaboration (also known as purchasing a product from a person or organization that has agreed to sell to us for a specific price), the consumer has selected the desired product off of a shelf where, again typically, there were options to the product selected, and approaches the check-out ready to pay. If you think about it, that’s really the optimal way of doing it. Under certain circumstances it might be better to pay first, and then be shown the product purchased; or to arrange payment well after having taken delivery, but in each of these instances one party is vulnerable to having the other not follow through on the terms of the collaboration, potentially rendering the whole exchange a bad idea.

On the other hand, by arranging to have the rewards of a successful collaboration delayed until after the benefits have been realized, the collaborating parties really don’t have to worry about the other’s level of commitment, or good character, or outward appearances of being trustworthy collaborators. All anybody really has to concern themselves with is preventing the other’s payoff from being realized too soon – hence the original admonition.

 It also doesn’t hurt if you can arrange to have those collaborators who double-cross you eaten by beetles.

Posted on: March 28, 2016 09:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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