Project Management

Be Original - An Ethical Dilemma!

From the Ethics Bistro Blog
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We all tackle ethical dilemmas. Wrong decisions can break careers. Which are the key challenges faced? What are some likely solutions? Where can we find effective tools? Who can apply these and why? Dry, theoretical discussions don't help. Join us for lively, light conversations to learn, share and grow!

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Kimberly Whitby
Simona Bonghez
Fabio Rigamonti
Karthik Ramamurthy
Mohamed Hassan
Alankar Karpe
Valerie Denney
John Watson
Deepa Bhide
Amany Nuseibeh
Enrique Cappella

Past Contributers:

Lily Murariu

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“Hey Peter, here’s my submission. Apologies for the delay but had to do some research to get the algorithms working the right way”. Maya rushed into Peter’s cabin.

“Thanks. What took you so long?” Peter wanted to know.

“Oh! I needed time to check on the output. That took some time. The logic behind these algorithms was present on a website and I used that material” Maya continued.

Peter was a new project manager to the organization and had been recently deputed to a project related to Innovation in the information technology domain. He was a product of an elite business school and was chosen for this project for his innovative ideation and a drive to succeed.

Peter knew this work wasn’t Maya’s original work and it needed to be called out by providing an appropriate citation.  However Peter also knew if she did that, his project would not be considered for Innovation and that he and his team would lose out on the award.

“Well we need to make the appropriate attributions to the original document that had the logic. That would be an appropriate next step” Maya wanted to check with Peter.

“I guess so but the process of deriving output is your work and so I don’t think we need to call an attribution separately.  I have noted that the so called “original” works that are out there are actually ideas from other sources. I guess it is fine to be “inspired” by such ideas as there is always someone who would have said it before you do. I would focus on our part of the work and in this case our original work is in processing the output or the effort that has gone in deriving the research outcome. Your part of the activity is quite complex and important for the eventual objective of our project” – Peter.

“Well I don’t agree with you. After all the output is the function of the original algorithms and those are not my original scripts” Maya continued to debate.

“Well, I guess I differ with your thought. Also remember that if we do so we are likely to be disqualified and will probably be out of the Innovation contest. Do you really believe that all original work out there is truly "original"? Well we are inspired by someone's ideas and that fuels the creativity in us. Well, give it a thought and let me know what you think” – Peter seemed disappointed.

Given the easy availability of information on internet for most of the research papers today, these instances are not uncommon. This dilemma cuts across domains. It’s a belief that the scope for original thinking has reduced and that most of the works are a “copy-paste” or a derivation of someone’s original work. Blatant copying of original works and passing it off without an appropriate attribution is a common complaint. Resorting to these tricks is perceived as means for a quick success. The publishing community is quite aware of this and has set appropriate check points (created software applications for plagiarism check) to flag such instances.

What can be done in such situations? How do we drive inspiration to write original articles? How can project managers work towards an appropriate balance of creativity and derivation? Applying originality of thoughts with the right attributions builds on the credibility of the author and ensures their authenticity and appropriate processing of guidelines.

Your thoughts on this ethical dilemma are welcome….

Disclaimer: all characters, names and incidents in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.



Posted by Deepa Bhide on: March 09, 2019 08:06 PM | Permalink

Comments (23)

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Ethical behavior is very critical not just for professional but personal life too. It has to come within but not because of policing.

Spot on Deepa! Easy access and most often lack of awareness is creating copies of copies. Sometimes we see some smart Alecs trying to make a few changes and passing it off as their original work. Attribution is essential more so since original work is scarce these days.
Good to acknowledge what has been used / referred!

I agree with Sunanda. It is good to acknowledge by Peter...

@Deepa: Excellent blog post, with a critical "Ethics & Professional Conduct" concept effectively brought our through a situation we often see in real life!
Maya seems to be clear about the right thing to do in this situation. However, it is clear that Peter is conflicted between the right thing to do, and the damage it might cause his innovation project. He seems to be using technicalities to justify unethical behavior.
Experience of several leaders shows that, while he may take a few steps forward with this conduct, there will certainly be a heavy price to pay in the long run.
I hope you will continue contributing your expertise to our vibrant community on

Excellent contribution, Deepa! I really enjoyed your story-telling approach which brings out the conflicts that may be caused by unethical behaviour or unprofessional conduct.
While you left the result of the story open, I would hope that Maya refuses to let the work go unattributed!

Great blog, Deepa, I appreciate very much the topic. Indeed there is a belief that "the scope for original thinking has reduced and that most of the works are a “copy-paste” or a derivation of someone’s original work". This belief gets stronger with every new article/presentation which only copies previous works, sometimes the authors don't even realize that this is unethical. This is why I do think that our role and responsibility are to raise awareness about it, to fight against it. There are lines that shouldn't be crossed and in our project teams we (as project managers) are the ones accountable to set the right norms and help our team members to respect them.

Thanks Aravind! Ethical behaviour does have to come within.

Sunanda, thank you for your comments. Appropriate attribution is important and an ethical practice.

Karthik, thank you for your excellent comment. Justifying unethical behaviors should not be encoraged and Maya has to put her strong voice. While I see where Peter is coming from, it is equally important to recognize what is the actual issue and do the right thing. Thanks again.

Priya, thank you. I have always related to a story telling approach and feel that is one of the best ways to bring forth a point. Thanks so much. I do hope Maya doesn't relent.

Simona, thank you so much for your comments. I agree that as project managers, we have an accountability for setting norms for our teams. Giving an appropriate attribution is the right thing to do. I do hope community is made aware of the ethical practices.

Deepa, Thanks for sharing !!

@Deepa, thank you for bringing forward such an important topic.
Too often, under various rationale, work is produced by simply taking the "easy road". This may include false attribution, or simply calling it plagiarism.
This unethical behavior has a great impact on all the ones that touch the "new product".
It is advisable for project managers to discuss this type of behavior with the team from the outset of the project, and include ground rules, in alignment to the organization culture and the Code of ethics of the professionals involved.

The University of Ottawa advises its students on this matter:

• When borrowing another person’s words, use quotation marks and include the complete reference (author’s name, date, pages).
• Internet sources must also be acknowledged.
• When borrowing another person’s ideas, acknowledge their origin.
• Do not paraphrase another writer’s words and pass them off as your own.
• If you use someone else’s words, data, etc., use quotation marks and give a
complete reference.
• If you borrow someone else’s ideas, give a complete reference."

Thanks Lily for your valuable information that will help our readers. Agree with you on setting up ground rules in such cases.

Thank you for sharing Deepa.
In a recent linked-in post by a project management professional, the PM highlighted the fact that anther professional has captured one of his authored content without attribution. It took a few comments with the expected behaviour being spelled out for that attribution to be explicitly stated as part of the edited post. Sometimes it takes a nudge to set expectations, give others the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to rectify.

"Means justify the end" said Mahatma Gandhi long back. Many such thought leaders have set examples in past and a good number of current fastbuck , success hungry booses need to learn such lessons. Here is your good example Deepa.

Do you permit to share this blog on Linkedin Deepa?

Thank you Deepa
Interesting dilemma on several levels,
Good for Maya about standing her ground and speaking up about doing what she believes is the right thing.
Interesting rharvshe is lobbying to give the credit to someone else. And if she doesn’t and they are called on it will Peter be there to take responsibility for the deliberate omission and defend her actions?

John, thank you for your comments. I doubt if Peter will support Maya. He should in reality and take ownership of his omission. Project managers need to be truthful and honest and take appropriate ownership.

Thanks for the question! That makes the blog interesting.

Amany, absolutely. I agree about giving a nudge and giving an opportunity to rectify. Ethic is the spine on which a project manager can perform his actions. Any spinal dysfunction will lead to paralysis.

Thank you for your excellent comments.

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