Project Think: Why Good Managers Make Poor Project Choices

Philip Calvert (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 3 November 2014




Philip Calvert (2014), "Project Think: Why Good Managers Make Poor Project Choices", The Electronic Library, Vol. 32 No. 6, pp. 929-930.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

We are always hearing stories about failed projects that crash and burn with the loss of huge sums of money. Projects fail all too often, it seems, with large and small projects in libraries and archives no exception. Why is it that projects fail? These authors have written previously about project management with a conventional line, i.e. that it is the management of processes that makes for successful projects. Time has changed their perception somewhat, so in this book, they offer a fresh perspective that has a particular focus on the human aspect of project failures. Their argument here is that it is possible to create an environment in which people make good choices without having those choices mandated by the project management. To put it another way, it is best not to constrain decision-making too tightly; it is better to allow some freedom to make choices within a range of possible choices and have the situation engineered, so that the best (or at least better) choices are the ones that get made.

Part of the problem is that we humans are fallible creatures and prone to allow our emotions and preconceived ideas override a pragmatic analysis. One example of this is “confirmation bias”, which as the authors explain, lies behind a lot of conspiracy theories. While analysing an event or situation, we see what we want to see and ignore or simply do not see considerable evidence to the contrary.

I found the section on “sunk costs” useful. Far too many projects fail because organisations see how much has already been spent (the sunk cost) and do not want to pull the plug in case it is all lost. Well, too often even more money is eventually lost because the project is fatally flawed. Libraries are certainly no immune to this problem. One suggestion from the authors is that once a project is seen to be in trouble, change the key personnel making the decisions. New managers are more likely to make the tough (and usually correct) decision to cancel.

The book is written with a light, approachable, touch. When you see a header “My dentist has a very nice website” you do not know what to expect. In fact, this is the opening of section on how to deal with masses of information that will be encountered at the start of a project, offering some tips on how to filter out what really matters from what does not – so the header is suggesting that you would not pick your dentist based on a website, would you?

This is a great book for all project managers to read. Better still, keep it on the shelf as a constant reminder that things go wrong with projects and emotional responses are seldom the best.

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