Do you have “Plan Continuation Bias”?

Video Presentation

Symptoms

You have probably been in the situation, maybe it was you or perhaps it was your boss or a relative.

Something happens, something unexpected or at least unplanned.  Your project was moving along; your evening out was scheduled and paid for; you were driving to your destination; the business was OK.

Then something happened that you did not expect: a change in the project reveals that you are going to be over-budget or miss the deadline; on the evening you were going to go out, you are tired, maybe starting a cold, it’s raining; you have a flat tyre, a major client cancels their order. What do you do?

Many of us will naturally suffer the consequences of “Plan Continuation” or “Sunken Costs” biases. This means that they will prefer the status quo to the need to revise everything:

  • You have already invested so much in this project; it would be a waste not to continue
  • You paid for the tickets, your friends are waiting; you will go on this evening out even if it kills you
  • You abandon your car with the flat tyre for another day and grab a taxi
  • I’m sure that business will pick up again soon

You don’t take a few minutes to think what is reasonable considering the changed context, you keep on going as planned – even though things are obviously different and you should stop wasting more time and money, you should call your friends and cancel, whatever it takes.

Corrective Measures

There is an engineering principle, perhaps largely forgotten today that encourages to have regular cycles of formal reviews throughout the development, each with a systematic risk and benefit analysis and a formal decision to stop or continue the project. By forcing the review into the cycle, you avoid the personal bias trap and are asked formally to justify why you should continue.

In today’s world, change is the norm. Someone is about to invent something that will make your work obsolete or old-fashioned, clients change their mind at the worst moment, pandemics challenge your team management methodologies.

By focusing on risk management (and service continuity), you should be continuously questioning what could go wrong, what might happen and build yourself some room, some changing room.

Evolutive Change Management

Work needs to focus more on context and outcomes, rather than on plans, KPIs and attendance records.

Focusing your transformation effort on the plan and the final result is deterministic and frequently leads to failure.   The first serious obstacle stops progression and we return to what we know,

Stop

Think.

Every day.

Start where you are today, determine the next step to take to reach your “true North”.  Remember that every change is a risk; if you don’t manage it, it has a high probability of becoming a problem.

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