Normalization of Deviance: How Otherwise Qualified Individuals Miss Warning Signs

Tampa Bay, Florida Chapter

Greg is a Program Manager for Citibank's Global Program Management Office and a current Doctor of Business Administration student at the University of Florida.

It's called normalization of deviance, and it's a road map to disaster. I am using "disaster" as a fluid term in this article, because for project managers in the finance industry, disaster is unlikely to be related to the catastrophic loss of human life (but to other industries, that is exactly what it means).

When examining failures after the fact, investigators are usually able to construct a "road map" or a series of contingency-related events that can describe how otherwise qualified individuals with no ill will or malice intent can overlook critical decision points.

For project managers, this deals directly with project risk management. Risk is inherently a part of any program, project or operation at varying levels and must be managed accordingly. This specific topic targets complacency, the way things are, lack of authority to act and the absence of "bad things" occurring. 

While researching the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, Diane Vaughan a sociologist, developed the theory to describe how NASA engineers and launch directors could knowingly and willingly approve the launch of Challenger even as concerns over leaking gas through the solid rocket booster O-rings had been identified during previous launches. The decision to launch on an unusually …

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"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT's relativity."

- Albert Einstein

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