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This is an abstract of a Medium yarn I published a couple days ago.  if you’re interested in the full read, go check out “3 scary behaviours seen during Covid-19 to improve on in life and avoid in projects

Over the months of the CV-19 pandemic, I’ve noticed three highly dysfunctional behaviours They may also be helpful to others.

These are: 

  • Not understanding exponential rates of change
  • Not understanding biology-based problems (including people problems)
  • Not knowing how to deal with experts and expert advice

In this post, I’m going to summarise each of these three behaviours and show how they relate to project management.

Not understanding exponential rates of change

A lot of people seem to misunderstand exponential growth curves (or exponential decay). The virus is the standout exponential experience in 2020, but we encounter non-linear dynamics every day. 

With CV-19, it’s the rate at which the virus propagates. The technical metrics, like “R-nought” and “R-t” are published but they on face value are comfortingly small. 

Right now in mid-October 2020, US state-level R-t numbers over one range between just over 1.0 to 1.6. And yet the USA is in the grip of rampant third-wave case growth which is starting to impact hospital capacity

In exponentially changing environments, things can quickly move out of control in the time it takes to organise people to investigate the problem. And by the time you realise things are materially out of control, the situation has changed again.

You are literally “behind the curve”.

I’ve been in plenty of project crisis situations which rapidly cascade from a single meeting to daily meetings, to twice daily, three or four times daily to continuous war rooms.

Exponential change is the perfect context for “Lead, Follow, or get the f%$k out of the way”

 

A lot of people don’t understand much about biology.

The CV-19 pandemic has underscored this lack of knowledge. Separate from exponential growth rates, a lot of people don’t understand a lot about viral infections. This complicates how mitigation programs are rolled out: people without knowledge either discount them because of ignorance, inconvenience or objection. A lot of people just don’t want the virus to work the way it does.

But guess what? The virus doesn’t listen; the virus doesn’t care what you think.  It works the way it does.

The same is true in projects. You may have a catastrophic problem situation caused by a system defect that you’ve never seen before and can’t diagnose.  You want it to be a certain thing because it will be easier to fix.

But guess what?

The problem doesn’t care. The problem doesn’t care about your schedule or your boss’s reputation with the CEO or brand damage.

A lot of people don’t know how to deal with experts.

There are a few things that a lot of people get wrong about experts.

Firstly, the consumers of expert advice often conflate relative expertise with absolute expertise. Experts may know more than anyone else about a topic, but that doesn’t automatically mean that they know everything about that topic (or even close). 

Secondly, even when the experts do know a lot, they don’t always agree. You often want to get multiple eyes on a problem. But once you have a group of experts, it is tough to receive advice based on a broad consensus.

Thirdly, and even worse, the differing advice you get may be wholly or partially contradictory. You have to learn how to balance off these differing opinions to be able to make a decision. 

And lastly, you probably need more expertise than you think.  With Covid-19, the experts we think about are medical and health experts. But we also need experts in economics, technology, manufacturing, logistics, mathematics and modelling, sociology, psychology and behavioural science, and so many more.

Fixing these in Project Management is the same as in Real Life

Please do what you can to look at these three scenarios and improve your knowledge and practice in these three areas. It can only help our societies deal with and recover from the pandemic. And it might also help you in your project management activities.