Tag Archives: Amos Tversky

Anchoring and Adjustment

Now I find this really strange. If someone gives you a completely crazy example answer to a question, then asks you the question, your answer is influenced by the crazy answer they first gave you. Even obviously random “information” interfers with our reasoning. Participants who span a roulette wheel before answering questions about how many African nations there were in the UN, gave lower answers if they span a low number before answering.

This makes me think of two aspects of task estimation in project life but, as an aside, it also shows how information can be completely useless but is, nonetheless, data.

So, to the subject of task or cost estimation. You are in a meeting at the start of a piece of work or project and someone asks you “Roughly how long will it take?”. They may even say “we won’t hold you to it”. The anchoring and adjustment heuristic shows us that they will be influenced by what you say, even if you say “Well, it is not 3 weeks”. My experience is, don’t be tempted to guess a number off the top of your head. According to Kahneman and Tversky, we “use” all “information” we receive on a topic and that ties up with my experience. If you must give a number before you have a chance to plan or estimate, be sure to also give a % confidence (which would be very low).

The other thing that came to mind was planning poker in AGILE project management. I always get push back from project teams when I suggest team members think of their estimates and then all write them down before revealing them and discussing them. “We don’t need all that fuss”, they say. Of course, there may be several aspects of psychology effecting group estimation. Nudge Theory and conformity in general come to mind but it struck me that anchoring and adjustment was relevant here too. Also, I wonder if those with low confidence in their ability to estimate tasks would be especially vulnerable to anchoring and adjustment.

Looks like there is more interesting stuff on this here.

Those who shout loudest…

I have been learning about the availability heuristic. Faced with the question “Are there more words with K as the third letter or first?” most of us answer incorrectly that it is “K first”. Kahneman and Tversky suggest this is because it is easier for us to think of words that begin with K than to call to mind words with K as the third letter.

So this got me thinking about project life and stakeholders in particular. I often have conversations with colleagues about stakeholder feelings, for example “How do stakeholders feel about a December delivery?”. I realised that the project team frequently go with the opinion they can most easily call to mind (there is usually little time for these discussions). This view is that which is voiced most often and most loudly. Thinking it over, it is clear that this is often not the majority view. The upshot of this is that other, equally important, stakeholders who feel differently don’t get their voices heard.

One answer I found is to ensure that wide consultations are carried out (e.g. surveys or user conference consultations). It is then important that the views are captured, analysed and communicated to the project team. It might be good to bring this up with the team periodically to remind them that the loudest voices do not necessarily represent the majority view.

I realise this is only one reason why the loudest stakeholder view carries sway in projects and one way to counter that. Loud stakeholders often get more influence because it is recognised that their views influence other stakeholders and can create general perceptions of the project. It just struck me that the availability heuristic seemed to relate to some aspects of “Those who shout loudest get heard”.