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Stakeholder Biases: Knowing Them is Half the Battle

Everybody likes to believe that they are fair and open-minded in the face of new challenges. But when you walk into a room full of project stakeholders, biases are quick to emerge in all aspects of the decision-making process. To improve the way decisions are made for the project, Lynda Bourne of Voices on Project Management takes us for a sobering dive into the psychology of bias.

Confirmation Bias

The question is this: do you have a tendency to seek out information that directly conflicts with your point of view? Do you watch movies that you hate just to “get a different perspective?” Without even asking, the answer is probably “No.” This is confirmation bias, the tendency for people to tune out what they don’t want to hear, while actively seeking information that confirms their view. If you, your sponsors, or the steering committee tend to think a project will turn out great from the get-go, it’s likely that all involved will ignore the pitfalls and downsides.

Chicken or Egg Illusion

Another bias occurs when we consistently mistake selection factors with results. Was the project team who came under budget at $1M more successful than the team working on the same project who was over budget at $900,000? It is possible that the project succeeded, not because of the efforts of a dynamite PM, but because it was destined to turn out well.

Sunk-Cost Fallacy

The sunk-cost fallacy will keep you working on a worthless project just to justify the cost you already invested. Bourne references Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow to illustrate this concept, placing it in a familiar situation. Did you pay to see a bad movie lately? Chances are you’ll waste your time watching it to make up for the “sunk cost.”

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About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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