Intuition in Project Management

Guest contribution by | 02.10.2017 | Project management | 0 comments

The planning and control of projects has changed a lot over the last decade. Procedures with a relatively rigid project planning have become rather rare nowadays. With agile, iterative methods, project management reacts to the increasing unpredictability and unplannability of the future. Predicting the future has always been a rather magical affair, but a lot has changed in the last decades: Complexity and dynamics have increased. Dynexity, as an unpleasant combination of these two ingredients, is on the rise. In addition, we are confronted more with ignorance than with knowledge. This can easily be illustrated with my “pentagon of not-knowing”.

The pentagon of not-knowing

The pentagon of not-knowing shows that there are at least five causes for our not-knowing:

  • Companies have too little information. For good, well-founded decisions, companies lack numbers, data and facts. But this situation is gradually becoming a thing of the past, or at least I am getting corresponding statements from managing directors, board members and other executives I work with.
  • Companies have too much information. There is also exactly the opposite situation: companies have too many facts, figures and data to have processed them sufficiently at the time of the decision. The projections of the International Data Corporation speak volumes in this context. And indeed, the increase in data flows was even greater than predicted. A vicious circle.
  • The available information is contradictory. Information is by no means always consistent and this makes it difficult to assess. This can be easily seen from the example of technology assessment: are nuclear power plants safe or rather a risk? Can you simply assess this? I cannot. But there are also developments, for example in nanotechnology or genetic engineering, whose opportunities and risks we cannot predict without contradiction. At present: Are electric cars the solution to our environmental problems or are they perhaps even exacerbating them?
  • Information is not always understandable. Often enough, we all come into situations in which we do not understand information quickly enough. Figures, data and facts must first be interpreted in a meaningful context. And this often leads to contradictions.
  • Last but not least, data is not always trustworthy. The larger an organisation, the more likely micro-political power games become. Scattering false information can help to push through one’s own interests, sawing at someone else’s chair, initiating or preventing projects, etc.

As a result of globalisation and the increasing dynexity, these causes are even more prevalent. Agile, iterative methods are therefore becoming increasingly important, also and especially beyond the control of project management. But what to do if even in today’s much shorter planning cycles too much ignorance still dominates?

The decision-making culture in the company

What distinguishes humans (still) from machines? Among other things, it is our intuition. It is the ability to judge unconsciously without being able to justify our findings or impulses for action afterwards. It is “Mind over Machine”. It is an important resource that is still only used unsystematically in a professional context. Are you allowed to decide something intuitively in your company – without evidence, numbers, facts? Are you encouraged to intuition or is an intuitive decision just accepted? So what does the decision-making culture in your company look like? And what happens when wrong decisions are made, which of course will happen sooner or later even when decisions are made intuitively?

Intuition and complexity

Companies often argue that the world is far too complex to rely on individual intuition. This is right and wrong. Right, because of course nobody is God and has an omniscient intuition at his disposal. This is also how intuitively wrong decisions are made. But it is also an almost naive false statement. Every human judgment of a neurologically healthy person is ALWAYS a mixture of rational, emotional and intuitive aspects. Experiments have clearly shown that when people lack access to their emotions – for example when the brain is damaged – : they are unable to make rationally meaningful decisions. We are also dependent on our emotions and intuition in our reasoning. Furthermore, in our professional lives we often do not have the time to first secure the decision to be made with a Big Data analysis.

Conclusion

We cannot only, we should also include intuition in dialogical, consultative decision-making processes. It is a matter of jointly checking the intuition of the individual team members for its probability and possible consequences. It is about finding out what happens if we follow our intuition and what if we don’t. With our intuitive judgement we have a neurological mechanism for perceiving and processing information. This mechanism goes far beyond our ability to make rational decisions. However, this does not mean a reversal of today’s approach: turning off your head and just listening to your gut does not work either. The point is to enrich the hitherto very one-sided, rational decision-making style with the powerful possibilities of emotional, intuitive decision-making. It is about including our feelings and our intuition in the decision-making process. Gut, heart AND head are a strong team. Long live intuition in the project, in the company, in the job and in the cooperation.

Dr. Andreas Zeuch
Dr. Andreas Zeuch

Dr. Andreas Zeuch works as a freelance consultant, trainer, speaker and author. He accompanies companies on their way to more empowerment and corporate democracy. His books "Alle Macht für niemand. Aufbruch der Unternehmensdemokraten" and "Feel it!: So viel Intuition verträgt Ihr Unternehmen" are bestsellers and provide many practical examples.