Psychology

Several properties of the human mind lead to individual behavior that seems to resist change. B. F. Skinner [19] describes one of the more powerful mechanisms. Skinner asserts (with extensive scientific data) that much human behavior comes from "operant conditioning." Put simply, this means you continue to do what brings positive reinforcement, and learn to stop doing things that do not lead to positive reinforcement, or that bring negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is something you like. Negative reinforcement is something you don't like. Positive and negative reinforcers vary from individual to individual. Skinner notes, "A reinforcing connection need not be obvious to the individual reinforced."

Figure 2.5 illustrates the author's rendition of a control-system view of Skinner's model. It starts with a need, which is influenced by the person's present state, including deprivation or satiation relative to the goal. Comparing this need to the person's understanding of his or her current situation (perceived reality) yields a gap that, if large enough, motivates a person to action. Action seeks to change reality to close the gap. The sensor, which may be one of the five senses or a more removed method of gaining data, feeds back information about the effect that this action has on reality. If the change is positive (reducing the gap, or otherwise supplying a "reward"), it strengthens the chances that the person will repeat the behavior. This is what Skinner calls operant conditioning.

This operant conditioning must somehow be stored within the brain. Since it defines a (perhaps rudimentary) model of the world (i.e., if I do this, then I get that), you can consider it a belief about how the world works. Such beliefs may be conscious or unconscious. Research demonstrates that these beliefs have other impacts on the model. Figure 2.5 illustrates that beliefs impact what we pay attention to, how we interpret what we sense (perception), what our motivations (needs) are, and the decisions we make about to act in the world so as to increase our

Decisions

Decisions

Beliefs

Figure 2.5 Control-system view of human actions (behavior).

rewards and decrease our negative reinforcers. This influence is mostly unconscious. In other words, you see it because you believe it.

Rewards While operant conditioning works well for rats and pigeons, you must use extreme care applying the model to human beings. Much of the damage done in organizations follows directly from applying oversimplified models of operant conditioning to humans. The field of performance measurement and concepts such as pay for performance are just some of the worst examples of ineffective practices derived from oversimplified application of reward-punishment concepts, even though Skinner identified, described in depth, and proved by experiment that punishment does not work.

Worse yet, research with humans demonstrates, conclusively and repeatedly, that rewards only work to motivate people to get the reward. Usually there are more unintended negative consequences from reward systems than positive benefits. Alfie Kohn [20] describes the reasons for this, noting that reward and punishment are really two aspects of the same thing: attempts at external control. He explains five reasons why rewards fail:

1. Rewards punish.

2. Rewards rupture relationships.

3. Rewards ignore reasons (for the problem that elicited the need for a reward).

4. Rewards discourage risk taking.

5. Rewards cause people to lose interest in the task itself and therefore to lose intrinsic motivation.

This is not news, but much of modern management does not get it. Frederick Herzberg [21] noted,

Managers do not motivate employees by giving them higher wages, more benefits, or new status symbols. Rather, employees are motivated by their own inherent need to succeed at a challenging task. the manager's job, then, is not to motivate people to get them to achieve; instead, the manager should provide opportunities for people to achieve so they will become motivated.

The requirements for CCPM must include designing the system to provide these opportunities. A significant barrier in the deterministic critical-path approach is that workers win or lose depending on whether they complete their tasks on time. Yet, all involved know full well that the task duration estimates in the schedule have significant uncertainty. As Deming demonstrates with his bead experiment [7], random fluctuations determine employee success or failure. This system clearly does not meet the design requirement.

Additional Psychological Considerations One modern view focuses on how our minds operate as pattern-recognition devices. You have a wonderful ability to infer the automobile in the picture by looking at only a small fragment of the picture. You can often name a tune in three notes. It's remarkable, when you think about it.

Beliefs act to focus our attention, and they adjust our perception of reality by acting as a kind of information filter. Two people witnessing the same events may have dramatically different views of what really happened. I was fascinated while listing to congressmen from both parties arguing about the impeachment of President Clinton. Participants from both sides made very logical and emotional arguments for their positions. No one argued that they held their position because of the political party they were aligned with. Yet, when the vote came in, only five representatives of 417 crossed the party line in their vote. While I am certain that a small minority literally chose to vote with the party, the speakers convinced me that they really believed the logical arguments that they made for their side. Since the argument was framed as an either-or choice, one would expect that arguments based on factual analysis should have aligned people regardless of political party. My perceptive filter saw this as an outstanding example of how people interpret the facts (i.e., perceive) in ways that align reality with their beliefs. The impassioned logical arguments of both sides had no impact whatsoever on the other side because they did not change the basic underlying beliefs. The participants in the debate were each locked into their paradigm.

People operating in any environment tune their behavior to the environment. Put another way, feedback through operant conditioning causes them to behave in ways that maximize positive reinforcement and minimize negative reinforcement in the current environment. Changes in the system threaten this equilibrium. Furthermore, Skinner demonstrates that extinguishing behavior established by operant conditioning can take a long time. The organism will continue to perform the old behavior, which is no longer reinforced, sometimes for thousands of tries!

Other aspects of psychology, or how our minds work, are also important to understand the system you are attempting to change. One of these is the availability bias. Psychological experiments repeatedly demonstrate that people are relatively poor judges of probability. Instead, people focus on the information they heard or saw last or that impressed them the most when offering judgments about probability. Thus, for example, you will often hear statements such as, "All scientists (programmers, engineers, etc.) tend to underestimate how long it will take to do a task." When pressed for data, people admit to having little. Data analyses often prove otherwise. My analysis of data from several organizations illustrates that people report most project tasks as complete on the due date. (A miraculous occurrence, by the way, proving the existence of date-driven behavior.) I also continue to hear project-task status reported as on schedule, meaning that a date or duration of some probability has been converted into a deadline. We will dig into the implications of this a little further on. Many studies also show that people also tend to be overconfident in their ability to estimate ranges of data or probabilities.

The PMBOK™ Guide does not deal directly with psychology as a knowledge area. Despite this, many project-management texts deal with the human side of project management. The project system must integrate with the human subsystem. This integration happens through the psychology of individuals and groups. Since the present system was not designed with this connection in the forefront, you may expect to find some problems in this area. Chapter 3 demonstrates that the core conflict leading to most of the observed undesired effects (UDEs) with the current project system stem from a mismatch between individual psychology and the project system goal.

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

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