Coaches kick on forth down more often than statistics indicate they should. In several cases, including fourth-and-goal situations early in games, their timid choices “represented clear-cut and large departures from win-maximization.” Romer’s paper got some attention in the NFL, but it has had almost no discernible impact on behavior. Going for it on fourth down is still seen as a daredevil move.” The Moneyball Myth, Bloomberg Businessweek, October 24 – October 30, 2011.
I loved the book Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. It highlighted so much of what I’ve seen in business and projects, where what we did day to day was based upon habit and “common wisdom” and not based on any hard facts or by truly paying attention. The fact that habit and alleged “common wisdom” kept us in business (even if the projects were late and buggy) was proof that they were the right things to do. When we finally shook things up and significantly improved what we were doing (e.g., on time projects with good quality), many folks clung to the old way of thinking and looked for holes to poke in the new strategies and approaches.
The above Businessweek article seems to be trying to do the same thing for the experience reported in Moneyball. It seems that because everyone didn’t automatically jump on and use the successful approaches reported, it must mean the methods are not really very good (i.e., a myth). The argument is couched in “efficient market hypothesis” and how if sports was an efficient market then these findings (and others like them) would be adopted by everyone and hence they would no longer be an advantage to anyone.
I’ve seen this kind of argument used before in trying to cast doubt on a method or approach in management. Because it is not perfect, it must be wrong. Because everyone is not doing it, we should not do it. Because we can find an example where it didn’t work, it shouldn’t be tried here. In my experience, this mind set is not based upon the objective experience, but usually based upon a resistance to change, the fear of losing what we know and hence our relevance to the organization.
The solution that has worked for me is to stick to the objective data and to work at minimizing the emotions (e.g, listen to people, understand and help air their concerns, take their suggestions where possible, etc.). The data and the experience will indicate what works and why it works. Working with people through the learning curve will help them adjust to the new concepts and approaches. Sometimes we just need time and perseverance, as the learning curve indicates, to let folks understand and adapt. Be careful, however, an awful lot of organizations wait too long before finally making a needed change.
As project managers, trying to have a successful project, we’ve probably all seen this before. A good approach to a problem is opposed because it is not perfect or someone finds examples where it did not go well. Often, this serves only to instill fear, uncertainty, and doubt and takes us away from the focus on the underlying reasons and approach. No approach to any non trivial problem is perfect. We just need to retain the courage of our convictions in our planning and experience, and press on with the best approach we know for implementing a successful project.
How do you handle arguments that your project’s approach may not be perfect?