Time lags between cause/effect — The Experience Trap

NOTE: 3rd post of a series on an HBR article by Prof. Kishore Sengupta, et al on The Experience Trap.

That time lags affect project results is common sense — any PM has experienced this frustration with the slow turn of HR onboarding, hiring consultants, etc.  But one would think we would know how to adjust.  From the article:

In the real world, there are delays between causes and effects, and it may become difficult to link them, let alone specify the relationship between them….  Regardless of the hiring and assimilation delays in their respective project environments, all participants [in the simulation] were unable to incorporate the effects of time lags into their planning decisions and suggests their mental models were based on a simple environment in which there was little or no delay between a decision and its result.

As one would expect, the length of the lag cascaded into project delays and cost overruns.  What was really interesting to me was that PMs often appear to have known what was right…

In postgame debriefings… [m]ost of the experienced managers stated that they would refrain from hiring and look to other options such as reframing the project, zeroing in on a few key priorities, or extending the deadline for completion.

But even after having just gone through a simulation, then articulating the correct future behavior, these PMs made the same errors of omission and commision when their follow-on projects had time lags.  Who knew that bureaucratic inertia, slow onboarding processes, etc. would have such far-reaching effects?

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