Friday, October 16, 2015

Not-measurable predictions and forecasts

Not-measurable predictions and forecasts: ever made one? Actually, who hasn't?

There's personal safety in not being measurable. Indeed, you can fill space and take up time with blather that is not accountable: if what you forecast and predict are not measurable, but yet fill a space where a forecast is needed, what's the risk? Nobody can hold you accountable for it!

Actually, there is a risk, not usually found on the project risk register: Absence of accountability often begets exaggeration, if not also overconfidence and extremism, all of which may have measurable consequences.

And, so we read that others have gotten onto this idea also:
There is a familiar psychological mechanism at work here. [Studies] show that if people expect that others will evaluate the accuracy of their judgments — that is, if people feel they will be held accountable for their views — then they tend to avoid cognitive pitfalls such as overconfidence and the failure to update beliefs in response to new evidence.

[Researchers] have demonstrated that accountability has this effect because it encourages people to pre-emptively think of ways in which they might be wrong — before others do it for them.

But when people make non-falsifiable predictions, they feel less accountable. After all, if a prediction can never be disproved, then it poses no reputational risk. That lack of accountability, in turn, encourages overconfidence and even more extreme predictions.

And, so the antidote is?
  • You can measure anything? Perhaps in theory, not really in practice, but nonetheless the idea sells books and lectures. However, it's the place to start: How would I know I'm DONE in project parlance?
  • Don't accept blather as a substitute for critical thinking. Of course, this requires you have a "blather filter" you can engage, and then the personality to challenge the blatherer
  • Always ask: can I measure the outcome; recognize success? If not: back to the drawing board for a different formulation.

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