Single-loop project controls
reigning paradigms or straitjackets?
This article reports on the results from an ongoing research program to study the role mental models play in project decision making. It examines models of project planning and control, discusses some of their limitations, and proposes tools to address the associated deficiencies. The project management simulator was a system dynamics model of software project management and was developed as part of an empirical case study. Project management belongs to the class of multiloop nonlinear feedback systems, but most managers do not see it that way. Our experiment results suggest that managers adopt simplistic single-loop views of causality, ignore multiple feedback interactions, and are insensitive to nonlinearities. Specifically, the article examines single-loop models of project planning and control, discusses their limitations, and proposes to address them. The results reveal three key insights: (1) tapping into an organization's "mental database" can be an invaluable source of organization-specific knowledge and wisdom; (2) in managing complex systems, mental models are not enough; combining the strengths of the manager with strengths of computer modeling provides reliable and efficient tools to perform the necessary bookkeeping and creates customized solutions to fit the organization.