Using Huge Magnets To Rid Your Organization Of Poor PMs

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Going back to my Game Theory roots, one of the games that’s often used to model cooperation or defection behavior is Hawk-Dove. Imagine a population of 100 generic birds, who can adopt one of two strategies: the doves forage for food, and consume all they can collect, whereas hawks simply take the food of those doves who are unable to defend it. A fascinating aspect of Hawk-Dove is that the entire population’s payoff is maximized if all of them behave as doves. However, with the introduction of a single hawk, the Nash Equilibrium[i] quickly moves towards a ratio of 25% hawks, 75% dove, even though, again, the entire population’s payoff is maximized if they are 100% dove.

Of course, games like Hawk-Dove are only somewhat analogous to the real-life situations they are intended to model, and it is up to each individual PM to determine just how analogous such insights can be to their particular environs. However, the particular aspects of Hawk-Dove, of the movement of the Nash Equilibrium moving to 25/75 with the introduction of just one hawk, even though the payoff is maximized through 100% dove strategy selection, got me to thinking about a particular binary distinction I’ve often made in this blog about Project Managers, the Processors versus the Performers. In my version of this PM game, the Processors are those PM practitioners who care very much about process, and tend to devote significant amounts of energy and time into ensuring that cost and schedule baselines are properly set up and integrated, that the risk analysis is performed with only the best information available and by recognized experts, that there aren’t too many start-to-start relationships in the Critical Path network, that no more than 5% of the activities have their Earned Value claimed through the Level-of-Effort method … you know the type. But the sure sign that a PM is a Processor is the adherence-to-process behavior appears to (or actually does) take precedence over bringing in the project on-time, on-budget, with all of the scope particulars satisfied. Conversely, Performers devote the lion’s share of their efforts at bringing in the project on-time, on-budget, with all of the scope particulars satisfied, and do not place much emphasis on what others consider to be proper process. Indeed, Performers will often see formal procedures as onerous, and harmful to the attainment of their overall objectives.

Now let’s take a quick diversion over to Organizational Behavior and Performance space. In any meritocracy, the person who shows talent or an aptitude for performing the tasks the organization asks of them will be given tasks with greater levels of responsibility, including leading teams of others so that some level of knowledge/expertise transfer, or training can take place (they don’t call Project Management “the accidental profession” for nothing). In PM space, this typically occurs in one of two ways: the individual actually brings in the work by attracting new clients with their demonstrated level of expertise, or else they are promoted because their abilities are perceived as being advanced by the higher-ups in the organization. In other words, the Performers versus Processors dichotomy is somewhat natural in the way it manifests in the PM world.

Okay, let’s return to Hawk/Dove. In my analogy, the Processors get ahead without actually bringing in projects on-time, on-budget, and yet it seems they are invariably the ones who set policy for the macro organization(s). In this respect, Processors don’t go out and attain credibility by actually being successful PMs – they sort of pilfer street cred by presenting as if they have it, usually through academic qualifications or claimed experience. Conversely, the Performers get ahead by actually being successful managing projects, which often includes knowing which of the organization’s procedures to short-shrift, if not avoid altogether. To continue in the analogy, Performers are “doves,” attaining and collecting successful project completions; whereas, Processors are “hawks,” claiming to have the inside track on how such successes were accomplished in order to convey to others how they ought to, well, perform the function of Project Management. Consistent with the model, organizations are clearly better served if all of their PMs are Performers, since most (if not all) of their projects will come in on-time, on-budget, which is all by itself a source of strength for the Strategic Managers (who are seeking to maximize market share).  However, with the introduction of just one Processor, the Performers are forced into a position of having to defend the way they conduct Project Management in those instances where it deviates from the point of view of the Processors. I have no idea how to even approach the calculation of the Nash Equilibrium in this scenario, since the parameters are so numerous, if they could even be quantified at all. But you see my point – with the introduction of just one “expert” in PM who points to anything other than a stellar record of successfully managing actual projects as the basis for their expert status, and the macro organization will begin to drift away from a true meritocracy and towards a perceived-advanced model for conducting Project Management.

So, Where Do The Giant Magnets Come In?

Several guidance-generating organizations actually seek to attract Processors in order to churn out their highly subjective PM procedures, guides, and handbooks. But for organizations that seek to repel these “birds,” some useful strategies might be gleaned from Wile E. Coyote, the cartoon antagonist to the Road Runner from the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies series of cartoons. Wile E. Coyote employs many devices and strategies for capturing the Road Runner, but always fails (usually spectacularly), meaning that a review of these strategies might provide an excellent primer for actually repelling the birds.

Now we just need the Processors to eat the bird seed with the iron pellets mixed in…


[i] Technically, a Nash equilibrium is a set of strategies, one for each player, such that no player has incentive to change his or her strategy given what the other players are doing. Retrieved from on February 9, 2019, 13:36 MST.

Posted on: February 11, 2019 10:00 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Interesting post.
Thanks for sharing

Excellent article and very well explained.
Thanks a lot !!

Very commendable paper

Interesting point.
Thank you

Good Information

Hmm. I think I see a problem. Doves eat bird seed. Hawks eat doves. That would seem to deprive us of a useful distinction as to who is being drawn off by the giant magnet ...

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