As we've seen, scope tends to expand, rather than contract. In Part I of this exploration, we briefly examined cognitive biases that lead us to avoid changes that would tend to contract scope. In this Part II we explore cognitive biases that lead us to favor proposals that tend to expand scope.
- Confirmation bias
- In the grip of confirmation bias we tend to favor information that confirms our beliefs and preconceptions. Although it operates when we're evaluating information, its most important effects for scope creep relate to its influence on information gathering. To the extent that confirmation bias influences them, those decision makers who have a preference for expanding the scope of an effort will tend to seek proposals that expand that effort's scope. This might include, among others, those decision makers who want to limit the total number of efforts underway, those who want to "piggy back" a favored capability on an effort already underway, and those who seek to enhance their power by expanding the scope of efforts they lead. For more, see "Scope Creep and Confirmation Bias," Point Lookout for March 12, 2014.
- Ambiguity effect
- The ambiguity effect is the human tendency to prefer options for which the probability of a favorable outcome is known fairly well, compared to options for which the probability of a favorable outcome is less known. When two projects, A and B, are both in trouble, and A is led by someone known to the decision makers, while B is led by someone less well known, the arguments contained in a proposal by A's leader to acquire B are likely to hold sway over B's counter-arguments, even when there are some doubts about A's likelihood of success and no evidence suggesting doubts about B's likelihood of success.
- Bias blind spot
- The bias blind spot [Pronin 2002] creates in humans a tendency to believe that they are not affected by cognitive biases. Scope expansion might be
inevitable. Instead of trying
to prevent it, we might do
better by learning
to exploit it.It causes decision makers to fail to compensate for cognitive biases in the decision process. An example of a cognitive bias compensation might be a review of the set of options under consideration, to ensure that scope-contracting approaches receive due consideration.
- The anchoring effect
- This bias causes us to assign too much importance to the first available piece of information. With regard to scope creep, that information might be an early proposal, or market research, or a senior management directive. For example, in the latter case, management might solicit proposals for cost reduction. Decision makers then might tend to become anchored on cost reduction, which could lead them to favor consolidating several projects, failing to even consider the possibility that any cost savings from consolidation might be surpassed by revenue advantages arising from earlier completion by continuing to operate those projects separately.
Most important, perhaps, is the Optimism Bias — the tendency to overestimate favorable and pleasing outcomes. Any proposal that manages to come up for a final decision is likely to be accepted if it promises success. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- The Weaver's Pathway
- When projects near completion, we sometimes have difficulty letting go. We want what we've made to be
perfect, sometimes beyond the real needs of customers. Comfort with imperfection can help us meet budget
and schedule targets.
- Status Risk and Risk Status
- One often-neglected project risk is the risk of inaccurately reported status. That shouldn't be surprising,
because we often fail to report the status of the project's risks, as well. What can we do to better
manage status risk and risk status?
- False Summits: II
- When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end.
The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is
in project work.
- On the Risk of Undetected Issues: I
- In complex projects, things might have gone wrong long before we notice them. Noticing them as early
as possible — and addressing them — is almost always advantageous. How can we reduce the
incidence of undetected issues?
- Unresponsive Suppliers: II
- When a project depends on external suppliers for some tasks and materials, supplier performance can
affect our ability to meet deadlines. How can communication help us get what we need from unresponsive
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
- And on November 29: Manipulators Beware
- When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.