Psychology Behind Project Lust

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Posted 2008-05-06 Print this article Print

Ever fall head over heels on a technology, a functionality or a big fat budget? We know you have, and we want to help you find the right balance between what the business needs and validating professional egos.

Psychology Behind Project Lust
So how does a project get to such a critical point? Most project-management experts agree that it is a gradual slide.

“At the outset of the project, everybody is working with the best of intentions and noble goals. And they start down a particular path, and it’s very difficult to deviate and make changes,” Asuret’s Krigsman says. “Then the element of denial comes into play very strongly. You have hope and denial working together, conspiring against the project.”

When IT is driving the project, insisting on implementing a new system or developing new software of which it has become enamored, it is often a lack of communication with the business that first starts the department on its wayward project path.

“A lot of times they think they know what’s best for the business, so what they’ll do is, they’ll come up with an IT initiative that focuses on technology that will deliver what they think is needed by the business,” says Mike Sisco, president of MDE Enterprises, an IT consultancy and IT management training firm based in Columbia, Tenn. “But, then, when you sit down and talk to the business owners, the managers and senior management team, they don’t really know why they’re spending that money or what they’re getting out of it."

Often, it is those unilateral decisions that get them into the initial pickle.

“That’s where a lot of IT folks get in trouble, [where] they don’t communicate with their business partner and they make decisions and business just hears about it,” Sisco says.

In these cases, Krigman says, it is just a matter of bad decision making.

“I think the first thing is that you have to bear in mind that although IT folks may sometimes have poor judgment, they’re not usually crazy,” he says, “which is to say that no one supports a project that they know will fail.”

They will, however, often drive projects that they have a conscious or unconscious ulterior motive to complete.
“You have to consider human nature,” says Steve McConnell, president of the Bellevue, Wash.-based software-development best practices firm Construx Software and a prolific author on software-development project management. “Sometimes people get projects launched because they think it would be cool to work on, not because it would be really good for business. And you occasionally see some political things driving the project, when somebody wants to get something done for personal reasons, rather than reasons that are good for the business.”

The Hot New Thing
The “cool factor” can be a big impetus in cultivating IT’s irrational desire to put a new technology or new software in place that may or may not help the business. This can be especially prevalent in software-development projects.

“Developers usually like features that are fun to develop, and those may or may not be the features that are good for the business,” says Joel Spolsky, a New York City software developer and CEO of Fog Creek Software, which develops project-management systems for developers. “If you could imagine a developer working in a bank or a brokerage on something rather boring, and then there’s some initiative to do video on the Web site. That’s obviously cool because it is video, so they’re going to want to work on that video-on-the-Web-site thing, and they’re going to want to make up all kinds of rationale for how video on the Web site is the future for online brokerages, even if it’s not really practical or appropriate.”

Fun to develop can mean different things to different people, Spolsky explains. Some may get hung up on technology because they want to get experience in it, others because it is different from what they are used to slogging away on, and still others because implementing the technology would be good for their careers.
No matter what the reason, Spolsky says, one thing usually is universal: “They’re always going to wear blinders or rose-colored glasses.”


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