Thursday, February 10, 2011

The riddle of memory and experience

Daniel Kahneman, with his collaborator Amos Tversky, are researchers this blog has pointed to many times for their work in decision analysis and other human factor influences in risk considerations.

Kahneman is a psychologist, and Nobel laureate in economics, who appeared last year at TED to talk about the "riddle of memory and experience". He took as his context 'happiness'

You might ask: "what does happiness have to do with musings on project management?". Happiness, per se, not much. But Kahneman simply uses the context to explain the dichotomy of memory and experience.

Why, as project people, should we care?

Memory and experience enter into every decision we make, every estimate we make, every issue and risk assessment we make.

Kahneman makes a few points that really captured my attention:
--Experience is objective; memory is rarely objective, and to the extent that it comports with facts depends greatly on the way the experience plays out over time. That is: our memory of an experience is highly influenced by what happened near the end of the experience.

--Without a factual repository for experience, we can't really depend on memory as a recall of what happened.

--Memory recalls the narrative of the experience, but the timeliness of the experience is not accurately represented in memory, nor are the priorities and relative emphasis within the experience.

I have often talked about the narrative of the project, in effect the vision of the sponsor translated into 'verbs'--to wit: the schedule--and the nouns, aka the WBS.  It's obvious that our memory of our experiences will highly influence the way the schedule is architected and the way risk is represented in each Control Account on the WBS.

To mitigate the points Kahneman makes immediately brings to mind 'project closure' and  the need to have a responsitory of history to upon which to base the facts of the project.  These are the facts that will inform the narrative on an objective history of the past experience of relevant projects, whether successful or unsuccessful.

Take a look and listen to Daniel Kahneman with your own project experience in mind.

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