The implication of bias

July 30, 2011

Every decision is influenced by a range of preferences and biases. I touched on this subject last month in my ‘Voices on Project Management’ post for PMI (see the post) but the effect extends to every cost and time estimate, the way every communication is received and understood and every decision.

As part of our work to upgrade Mosaic’s PMP materials to align with the new PMP Role Delineation Study, we have developed a White Paper focused on the causes of bias including our innate cognitive biases, learned biases and emotional affective factors.

It is impossible to remove many of these biases; but being aware of them allows their effects to be mitigated. Download the White Paper from:

Google+ uses Circles to manage communication

July 23, 2011

The idea of stakeholder circles is spreading! Google has begun beta testing a new social networking system that uses the concept of circles to manage friends.

Not in same way as our Stakeholder Circle®, but the Google + Project now lets you put your social contacts into different circles. The Google circles makes it easy to put your friends in one circle, your family in another, and your work colleagues in another; then manage what you share with each group.

Not to be outdone, Facebook engineers have already ported the circle concept to Facebook! The engineers wanted to be able to organise their Facebook friends in the same way you can organise them using Google+. Since it took a bit of hacking to develop, the team of four has called their tool Circle Hack and described it as “A one-night experiment with JavaScript (not affiliated with Facebook).”

Just for the record, we invented the Stakeholder Circle® in 2003, and the name is a Registered Trademark. Neither of the two developments above conflict with our mark, and naturally, we thoroughly support the idea of using circles to manage your communication with groups of significant people, friends or stakeholders.

Effective Communication

July 9, 2011

One factor that makes communicating with stakeholders difficult is assessing the impact the message has on the receiver. This can vary from individual to individual and the same person can react quite differently to similar messages at different times.

The challenge of communicating is dealing with the fact you have no idea of the perceptions many stakeholders currently hold of you and your project and you have no control over the other news the person is receiving.

Effective communication requires a shift in focus from the technical content of the message, the data you wish to communicate, to the effectiveness of the communication process. We have published and updated a series of White Papers focused on communication with a particular emphasis on documentation as a communication medium.

Basic communication theory is canvasses in WP1066, already discussed in our June post: Communication 101:

Effective writing is covered in WP1010:

And our latest white paper, WP1065 focuses on the importance of page layout on the degree of comprehension your reader will achieve. Well-designed pages will achieve comprehension levels of up to 90% or better, this can crash to as low as 10% for a poorly designed page containing exactly the same information. Given you spend many hours compiling the data contained in a typical report, it is worth spending a few minutes thinking about effective document design to make sure most of the information is received and understood by your readers. For more on document design see:

Project Management Ethics

July 3, 2011

The ethical standards required of project managers are increasingly being backed by the force of law. For a number of years the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) has imposed legal obligations on organisations working, or with a presence in the USA and Australia has had similar provisions in its Criminal Code since 1999 based on the 1997 OECD Convention on Combating Bribery. Now the UK Bribery Act 2010, which came into force on 1 July 2011also places obligations on organisations world-wide. The UK law is intended to be the toughest legislation in the world!

The Act has wide application. It applies to those conducting business in the UK, including international companies. It also applies to those conducting business elsewhere in the world where they have a close connection with the UK, which includes bodies incorporated in the UK, Scottish partnerships, British citizens, British nationals and UK residents. Employees, agents and associated persons of a commercial organisation affected by the UK Act are themselves covered by the UK law and the organisation itself has strict liability if a person associated with it offers, promises or gives a bribe to another or offers, promises or gives a bribe to a foreign public official (with the intention to obtain or retain business or an advantage in the conduct of business for that organisation).

There are three main offences under the UK Act:

  • offering, promising or giving a bribe – i.e. a financial or other advantage;
  • requesting, agreeing to receive or accepting a bribe; and
  • bribing a foreign public official.

These offences can be committed by organisations, as well as individuals. An individual found guilty of any of these offences faces a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine; a convicted organisation will be liable to an unlimited fine. If any of these offences is committed by an organisation with the consent or connivance (i.e. knowledge and positive or tacit agreement) of a senior officer (or a person purporting to act as such) who has a close connection with the UK, the senior officer can also be prosecuted for the offence and faces a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

Corporations can reduce exposure to their liability by incorporating six core principles into their governance procedures:

  • Proportionate procedures: maintaining bribery prevention policies that are proportionate to the nature, scale and complexity of the organisation’s activities, as well as to the risks that it faces
  • Top level commitment: ensuring that senior management establishes a culture across the organisation in which bribery is unacceptable, which may include top-level communication of the organisation’s anti-bribery stance and being involved in the development of bribery prevention policies
  • Risk assessment: conducting periodic, informed and documented assessments of the internal and external risks of bribery in the relevant business sector and market
  • Due diligence: applying due diligence procedures that are proportionate to the risks faced by the organisation; since an organisation’s employees are “associated” persons, appropriate due diligence may become part of recruitment and HR procedures
  • Communication and training: ensuring that bribery prevention policies are understood and embedded throughout the organisation through education and awareness.
  • Monitoring and review: putting in place auditing and financial controls that are sensitive to bribery, including consideration of obtaining external verification of the effectiveness of an organisation’s anti-bribery procedures.

Defining the line between legitimate corporate hospitality which is allowed under the Act (provided it is proportionate and reasonable) and bribery will require the development of policies for both the provision of the hospitality and the receiving of gifts.

With this law now in force, maintaining appropriately high ethical standards is becoming increasingly important. To download a copy of the PMI Code of ethics and professional conduct see: