Project Management

“Sometimes I Just Don’t Understand PM (strikethrough) Human Behavior!”

From the Game Theory in Management Blog
Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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“Sometimes I Just Don’t Understand PM (strikethrough) Human Behavior!”

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In last week’s blog I asserted that the principals undergirding modern Project Management started off in the realm of the personal and migrated to the business arena, and the blog prior to that one argued that PM techniques have that rare quality in the management sciences field of being completely scalable. Taken together, it stands to reason that many of the principals contained in the PMBOK Guide® would have readily-recognizable counterparts in our common, personal vernacular. I think that it also implies that management science hypotheses that have been shoe-horned into the PM codex, but don’t really belong there, would tend to stand out because of their lack of any real-world, or personal utility. Based on the old-style structure of the PMBOK Guide®, let’s take a look at some of those real-world applications, shall we?

  • Scope: Keep your eye on the target.
  • Cost: This is a story from Walt Garrison’s book, Once A Cowboy (Random House, 1988), discussing an incident where Don Meredith spent $400 (real money back in the 1960s) buying beer for friends and teammates at a bar. “I just made $400” Garrison quotes Meredith. “How do you figure that?” “I just had $800 worth of fun.”[i]
  • Schedule (neutral): Time is money.
  • Schedule (negative): Well, that meeting was time I’ll never get back.
  • risk (no initial caps): “Sir! The odds of surviving a direct attack on an Imperial Star Destroyer are—”[ii]
  • risk (no initial caps) (appropriate response): “Shut up!”[iii]
  • Procurement: Caveat emptor.
  • Communications: “Keep a secret, it’s your slave. Tell it, and it’s your master.” – Henry Wilson Allen.[iv]
  • Quality: “Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.” – John Ruskin[v].
  • Human Resources: “Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.” – Erma Bombeck[vi]

Now, the alert GTIM Nation citizen will quickly notice that the personal-level PM applications for risk (no initial caps) and Communications tend to run contrary to what much of the higher-level analysis posits, namely that risk management (no initial caps) provides a much-needed information stream, central to real-time decision-making, and that Communications Management is needed to ensure that all stakeholders are identified and fully-informed of your project’s goings-on. In the risk management (no initial caps) instance, the quote from The Empire Strikes Back is actually the second time in that movie where the android C3PO is attempting to advise Han Solo on his course of action. The first time went like this:

C3PO: “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to one.”

Han Solo: “Never tell me the odds.”[vii]

By this point in the Star Wars films, the C3PO character has been established as being very intelligent, of occasional (if accidental) help in some situations, utterly useless in crises, lacking a practical sense of perspective or proportion, and possessing a mechanical personality that’s almost human – the perfect combination of traits for a character who gives marginally relevant statistical information at various times to the real decision-makers.

Next, we have the utter failure of the Communications Managers to produce a variant of their recommendations that has traction in the personal sphere. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: the notion that all “stakeholders” should be identified and informed of your personal plans and activities sounds absurd on its face, and there’s a good reason for that. Not everyone who is “impacted” by your plans and activities wants those efforts to come to fruition, and some of these can be expected to actively work against them. To alert this entire group of people is foolish on the personal and macro level. Consider also how often the business world is compared to team sports, or even warfare, with similar axioms and strategies having efficacy in both. Enemy nations employ spies to discover the other side’s plans and activities, and spend considerable resources to prevent their own from being distributed beyond those who can demonstrate a need-to-know. While the utter destruction of your competitors’ Project Teams isn’t a normal aspect of management in general and PM in particular, out-performing them in terms of Scope, Cost, and Schedule is a universal goal, and broad dissemination of your plans and activities is a sure-fire way of lowering the odds of attaining it.

For those who insist on heeding the advice from risk and Communications Managers, I’ll leave you with one more Hans Solo quote, said after the Millennium Falcon has just experienced a large jolt, and C3PO has offered that the asteroid on which they’ve landed “is not entirely stable.”

“’Not entirely stable.’ I’m glad you’re here to tell us these things. Chewie, take the professor into the back, and plug him into the hyperdrive!”[viii]



[i] Garrison, Walt, Once A Cowboy, Random House, 1988, pp.77.

[ii] C3PO, The Empire Strikes Back, 1980.

[iii] Princess Leia, The Empire Strikes Back, 1980.

[iv] Retrieved from on September 20, 2022, 20:28 MDT.

[v] Retrieved from on September 19, 2022, 18:18 MDT.

[vi] Retrieved from on September 19, 2022, 18:26 MDT.

[vii] The Empire Strikes Back, 1980.

[viii] Ibid.

Posted on: September 20, 2022 10:37 PM | Permalink

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