How to Identify and Correct Cognitive Bias in Project Management


Cognitive biases affect everything from dinners out with friends to our opinions of movies to our projects at work. Biases are a part of human nature, since they’re mental shortcuts that help us make decisions. They also affect how we perceive the world and interact with others, though it may result in incorrect assumptions, and worse, decisions. The solution is to learn how to identify and correct cognitive bias in project management. Here’s how you can prevent it from affecting your decision making within your organization.

Know the Shortcomings of Various Types of Bias and How to Correct for Them

Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for information that supports your opinion and rejecting data against it. One way to combat this is to intentionally seek diversity of opinion. Ask people who have different viewpoints to evaluate the matter. Discuss ideas with the team and let everyone give their feedback.

Availability bias or relying only on readily available information is corrected the same way; seek feedback from others, including those who don’t agree with you. This solution can correct the false consensus bias, too, where you assume others agree with you much more than they do.

A similar bias is called anchoring. Once you have the initial conclusion, people tend to side with it even as more information comes in later that disproves it. One solution is making decisions slowly. Using a formal decision making process helps you avoid rushing to a conclusion and then defending it.

Overconfidence bias is putting too much faith in your own opinions and work. One solution is using good data sources and getting corrective feedback. Another is reviewing prior examples of failure and success so that you aren’t overconfident. The planning fallacy is where you underestimate the time and cost of a project. The solution to this can be reviewing prior examples for realistic estimates. You can also ask for others’ opinions of the resources required or add extra time to estimates to offset this tendency.

Use Tools that Limit Cognitive Biases in Project Management

The importance of working with a good project management software is shown when it prevents serious problems created by your inherent biases. For example, optimism bias leads us to focus on overly optimistic outcomes. You assume that nothing will be delayed and no mistakes will be made. This affects risk management, change management and project selection.

By setting up a process where you ask for time, cost and labor estimates from a variety of sources, you reduce the odds of setting an overly optimistic schedule. Make it part of the process to get input from various team members and departments when creating schedules and budgets.

Formal change management processes ensure that all changes are jointly agreed upon, work delegated and supervised. Don’t rely on just your team to approve changes, though. Seek the opinion of others outside your team to minimize in-group bias. You can use “choice architecture” to create defaults that influence how decisions are made such as delegating decision making to a diverse group like people from multiple departments and backgrounds.

A side benefit of using project management tools is that it automatically collects the data needed to make better decisions later on. You know how long various tasks took in the past, so you can make more accurate predictions in the future. On the flip side, you’ll know when you’ve invested too much time and effort and need to stop pouring more into a failing project.


About seventy percent of project performance is attributable to human factors. And half of all projects fail, often because of mistakes made when scheduling or estimating costs. This is why de-biasing projects by using project management software can dramatically improve your odds of success.

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