Why should project managers consider the source of their information? Where you get your project information or business intelligence from has an impact on its weighting and your decisions. Make sure both the source and the data are factual and reliable. Always consider the source.
From personal experience, I will listen to a podcast or an interview and immediately take that information as gospel. Joe Rogan is a classic personal example. He will talk about nutrition, diet, or jiu-jitsu and I will start to impart my knowledge in general conversation. When asked where I heard that information, The Joe Rogan Experience is not a valid source. The same applies in project management, you may receive conflicting information from different sources about the progress of a project. It is important as a project manager to be able to carefully interpret the information you receive and utilize it for the better of the project. Always consider the source of your information.
Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, gives this common rookie error an examination. You hear information through a general conversation, and until the next conversation you have, you possess this new knowledge that you are dead set on being correct.
You pass someone in the hallway, and they let you know the office building is getting a new break room. The next person you see lets you know the parking lot is getting refinished. All of a sudden you have visions of new office space because everyone you have spoken to is generating this information.
When you speak with the building manager, he or she refutes everything you have heard and crushes your dream. This exposure to contradictory viewpoints allows you to decipher information better.
Why project managers need to consider the source of their information
The bias of information is another process that needs to take place. Why is someone telling you this? Is it for the sake of your own good or theirs? The source of information becomes relevant to a more experienced project manager. The owner of the project may remain infinitely optimistic while the labor force delivers a different message. Who do you believe? This is why it is important to consider the source of your information.
Buterin explains his two-part approach for reasoning counterfactually. “If someone tells you that X is true, ask yourself:
- What would they say if X really is true?
- If ‘they will say roughly what they just said now,’ then their words provided you with exactly zero information.”
Facts are facts. You can look them up. They are the commodities of answers. No worth to them.
The sky is blue. The grass is green. There are 24 hours in a day and 60 minutes in an hour. All of this information provides you with very little. You have learned nothing through this series of facts.
A person’s interpretation of those facts is useful. Take for example time. Somehow, there are people out there that seem to get more done even though everyone has the same amount of time. Their interpretation of time is where the value lies.
Some see one minute as an eternity (think of planking for a minute) while others visualize a minute as already in the past. The fact is that the sixty-second interval is always 60 seconds. The interpretation creates the separation. An eternity of one-minute intervals can produce fantastic work while dismissing them as too short produces nothing.
In the United States, political ads are running rampant. No matter what network or show you watch, a political ad is bound to reach your eyeballs. Interpretation of facts could not be more apparent in these ads. Somehow every candidate is the worst and the best depending on the purveyor of information. One ad states the candidate is against veterans, yet the next ad has hundreds of veterans supporting him or her.
Both sides are stating facts that are legitimately sourced. Even so, opposite messages can be created. The facts are not where the value lies. The interpretation is the influencer. Also, taking into consideration who is saying what and why during these campaigns could not be more evident.
Here is a final reminder from Buterin, “In general, know when it’s really important not to take people’s words at 100 percent face value.”
Trust among your team is at the forefront of this advice. I know it is hard to believe, but some people lie. They have alternative agendas and are willing to sacrifice a relationship for the benefit of themselves. An owner will have a working relationship with a client for a decade, and one day they receive a cheaper estimate, and all of a sudden that client is dead to them.
Generating the ability to tell when someone has your interests at heart and when they are manipulating you is worth its weight in gold. Remember the two-part process Buterin introduces. Facts are facts. No information is gained from them. The interpretation is the key.
It is similar to a poker hand. Someone can win with nothing. If you play 2-7 like it is two aces, that interpretation can throw off your opponents, and you win with inferior cards. The same is true in business or on a project. You can interpret the facts in your favor.
A vendor bows out. That creates an opportunity to learn from adversity and gain a better, more reliable contractor. An employee quits. Time to find someone who can fill their shoes and bring a different set of skills to the table.
Consider the source of your information. Do they have ulterior motives? Can they be trusted? Why are they telling you this information? If they were to repeat the same information should they be telling the truth, delete this instance from your memory bank. It provided no value.
Be your own filter of information.
Christopher Cook, PMP, MSPM, has an extensive career in the construction industry. Throughout his career, he has been awarded over 40 construction projects that have yielded a 10% profit for each organization. He has a Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial Technology Management with an emphasis on Building Construction Management and Master’s of Science in Project Management. To find out more about him visit EntrePMeur. Christopher writes about strategy and cost management.