Project Management & Habits

Definition of Habit

Habits are routines of behaviour that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously, without one being conscious about them. Habitual behaviour often goes unnoticed in persons exhibiting it, because a person does not need to engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks. Habituation is an extremely simple form of learning, in which an organism, after a period of exposure to a stimulus, stops responding to that stimulus in varied manners. Habits are sometimes compulsory. ( [Underline and Italics added for highlighting]

I have yet to find any project management literature that describes the effective management of existing habits. I have seen vague references to this in change management literature, but to be honest it is not really shouted from the rooftops.

To bring this into context

  • Would you leave your house without brushing your teeth? (I hope to elicit a resounding NO from the majority of readers on this.)
  • Would your child (presume still 7 years old) answer with the same conviction?
  • How long did it take to “embed” this habit in your child?
  • Do you think children are slower or faster that adults to adapt a new habit?
  • What is the shortest period in which a habit can be established?
  • If another habit already exists, that has to be overcome; will it make the establishment of a new habit take longer?
Habits - There is choice

Habits - There is choice

In some projects the habits of people can hardly has any influence on the success of the project e.g. a bridge. Successful bridges don’t collapse; the carry the substance they were designed to convey successfully over or past a specific obstacle. The frequency that they are used is not a measure of their success; it is the capability to overcome the obstacle that forms the measure of their success.

On the other hand some project successes are ONLY measured by the impact that they have on frequency of use, the change they establish in the habits of the receivers of the product of the project. As I hail from information centric project management, it would be easy to present that as an example, but to carry the point across I would like to use of vehicle safety belts as an example. Fitting safety belts to a vehicle does not constitute success; it does not increase the safety statistics of that specific model at all. Use of the safety belts by the occupants would represent success. How long do you think it took the governments and vehicle manufacturers to establish the majority use of safety belts in vehicles?

So where does a habit come from?

According to psychologists (and Wikipedia) Habituation is an extremely simple form of learning, in which an organism, after a period of exposure to a stimulus, stops responding to that stimulus in varied manners. In my book (The Management Imperative) habit formation is the result of a process which has the following steps – thought pattern, speech, attitude, behaviour and then habit. This view is supported by numerous other authors and thinkers in the industry.

What nobody seem to emphasise is the duration of these steps, the requirement of establishment of dominance required in each of these steps or the determination required to achieve a result. This is probably because this transformation process rooted deeper to the human core than most people would like to acknowledge. Habits require the application of skill, knowledge and attitude to attain a result.

Habit - Where it is

Habit - Where it is

Project Management on the other hand mostly concerns itself with the transfer of knowledge (training) and then only the tacit kind (implicit knowledge is expected to develop outside of most projects). Skills transfer does occur in certain instances, but I would not venture to call it one of the things that project management is known for. Attitude is not expected to be addressed by the project for a period past the point of its own duration, hence there is focus only on the attitude required to fulfil the project requirements.

So what am I saying?

I am posting a challenge, prediction or venturing a guess – If someone would research the correlation between project success and the requirement for habit management, I am willing to put money down that the higher the dependence of project success on adaptation of user or recipient behavioural or habitual change, the lower the statistical perceived success rate of projects in that arena.

Please state your opinion – say your say – get it off your chest.

Share this with someone who you think may take an interest.

Have a great day.


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