In the world of scheduling and project management, “schedules” can manifest in a broad spectrum of formats and detail, from sophisticated cost and resource-loaded CPM and 4D schedules to logic-less timelines. Far too often, scheduling and management practices tend toward timelines that are no more than lines on a page. Whether due to a lack of training, availability of resources, or willingness to invest time in creating and communicating a plan, we repeatedly witness many projects that make little or no investment in proactive scheduling practices. Sadly, it is often true that scheduling is not taken seriously until something starts to go wrong, sometimes in the middle of a project to evaluate the time impact of changes, or later to prove or disprove time-based claims. In these situations, we typically encounter poor project schedules stemming from bad scheduling processes and practices. In this article, we explore one possible reason and contributor to this common situation: the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
First identified in 1999 by David Dunning, an American social psychologist and professor of psychology, and his graduate student, Justin Kruger, the Dunning-Kruger Effect has become a substantiated and generally accepted concept in human psychology. In their landmark study, they found that self-assessments of competence did not align with actual performance on tests, i.e. the majority of students assessed their performance as above average including very low performers. Said another way, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is essentially being ignorant of your own ignorance, thinking you know more than you do, about a subject or as compared to your peers. The irony or “double burden” of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is that the knowledge it takes to be good at something is the same knowledge to recognize when you are not good at something; or, said differently, both the incompetence to make a poor decision and not knowing it was a poor decision. It is important to note, that this cognitive bias is not (necessarily) caused by “ego blindness”; people can often admit their shortcomings if they can see them. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the problem that “you don’t know what you don’t know”—but think you do.
How does it manifest itself on projects?
Project scheduling has evolved into a powerful and complex management tool. The level of expertise for professional schedulers has risen considerably; however, the awareness of scheduling’s growing complexity has lagged notably by managers and “amateur” schedulers. This has contributed to the prevalence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in Project Scheduling.
On the surface, project scheduling can seem like an intuitive task of simply placing work activities in a logical order to complete the project, a natural extension of project planning. It is important to note the differences between project planning and scheduling. Planning is the process of selecting the means, methods, and succession of work to accomplish a goal. In other words, planning conveys what must be done, how and where it will be performed, and in what general sequential order it will be completed. Scheduling determines the timing and specific sequence of tasks to carry out the plan, the end result of a successful planning process.
Although different processes, scheduling and planning are uniquely bound. The inputs to the scheduling process, the work breakdown structure (WBS), schedule constraints, job logic, etc., are direct results of the planning efforts. Therefore, an inability to schedule stems from a reluctance or incapacity to plan; however, the ability to plan does not coincide with the ability to schedule. Herein lies one of the common reasons project schedules and scheduling practices are deficient on projects. Project teams who have a high competence in planning the means and methods to prosecute the work often assume that skillset extends to project scheduling. Commonly, this results in a poorly developed schedule, ineffectively translating the planning knowledge into a proactive schedule that could predict completion, help coordinate teams, deliverables, subs and suppliers. Schedules predict resource allocation and demand, inform cash flows, guide performance measurement, and serve as a communication tool among project stakeholders.
The growth of computer-aided scheduling has also contributed to the decay in understanding the mechanics and mathematics of scheduling. Intelligence is now hidden within the “black box” of scheduling software. The accessibility of products like Microsoft Project make it seem like anybody can put together a schedule. Knowing how to navigate the buttons and menus of these software has given “amateur” schedulers a false sense of confidence in their scheduling acumen. Unfortunately, software that is widely adopted does not prevent the user from bad CPM scheduling practices. In many schedules that we have seen over the years, basic scheduling best management practices are largely absent. Commonly, constraints are used in place of logic, activities are missing predecessors and/or successors, lags and leads are misused, and updating the schedule is performed incorrectly or not at all.
What can we do about it?
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is by nature hard to identify in yourself, but easy to prevent. Whether you have years of scheduling experience or are new to the techniques and tools, ask for peer feedback from other scheduling professionals, like our team at ProjectControls.online. We can help uncover gaps in knowledge through a peer review. As a community of professionals, we can leverage our combined experiences, tools, and skillsets to aggrandize our project schedules and the scheduling practice as a whole.
For project schedules specifically, the analysis tools on ProjectControls.online can instantly tell you whether your schedule meets the basic, industry-standard metrics for schedule health and integrity. The DCMA 14-Point Assessment, as a part of ProjectControls.online, coupled with our analysis dashboards can give you a quick sense of how you are doing or integrity of a schedule your team is using to guide the project. Being informed about the quality of your project’s schedule can translate awareness into action.
Lastly, and most important, the more we learn and learn from each other, the more we can minimize the Dunning-Kruger Effect in our community. Scheduling is an evolving field. Once you have mastered the basics of technique and software, keep growing your skills with more sophisticated concepts and applications. And, continue to seek feedback from your peers and be open to feedback.
As always, we would love to hear your feedback and ideas. Feel free to leave a comment on this post or contact us directly at email@example.com.