as a PM, should you learn to place more trust in your instinct?

Indeed, the vast majority of the project managers I work with are Cartesian, logical, and pragmatic.

It may be due to the fact that I evolve in a world largely populated with engineers and technicians. However reasoned we may be, we often feel a chill, an instinctive reaction which warns us of danger. It is possible that unconsciously a new situation reminds us of a past one. When this happens, let’s take the time to listen to these messages and to decode them before deciding to integrate them or not into the decision.

According to PMI (the Project Management Institute): "Project scheduling is the application of skills and techniques, acquired through knowledge, experience and intuition, to develop an effective project schedule model. This schedule model integrates and logically organizes various project components, such as activities and relationships to enhance the likelihood of successful project completion."

As you can read, intuition is a component of successful scheduling according to The Practice Standard for Scheduling – Second Edition.

not enough data

In the world of projects, it is very frequent that we do not have enough data to make a really informed decision based on certainties.

This can be the case when we are faced with the choice of using a brand new and promising technology versus a more proven but limited one. Or when you need to decide between entrusting a small supplier that is just launching its business or relying on the big boys of the sector.

too much data

In other cases, it is the overload of data that kills the useful information and we become drowned under the flow.

This can be the case when your board has decided to launch an ERP or CRM project and you lead the study of the potential solutions proposed by key software suppliers in the domain. The list of features and functions will be plethoric and scoring systems limited in their ability to point out the key differentiators.

many options

At other times, the consultants or experts we recruited to study the subject do not come back with a single best option but several with long winded lists of pros and cons, or do not manage to agree amongst themselves to a common recommendation and request nevertheless your arbitration.

innovative approach

It happens frequently enough that a project, which according to PMI "is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service”, is very precisely unique and aims at achieving something never done before. Only an innovative approach could permit to reach the objective. In such a situation, experience and reasoning by analogy will not be of great help.

need for speed

On top of this, some decisions cannot be postponed.

For example, the usual scheduled down time windows for software installations. We can find ourselves in a situation where we have to decide before midnight on Saturday if we choose to stop and backtrack the installation of a new version of a piece software that is taking longer than planned. Or follow the alternative route of continuing at the risk of no-return and not having an operational system on Monday morning.

Another example is when we have a limited window of opportunity to make it or break it. For example, we may have to launch the project on January 1st or postpone it by several months or even cancel it altogether if we don't deliver on time.

listen to the signals

Whether we call it instinct as “an inborn pattern of behavior that is characteristic of a species and is often a response to specific environmental stimuli” or intuition “the act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes” or gut feel “a mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes”, we have to learn to trust ourselves!

Watch this wonderful video from Dylan Evans about risk intelligence :

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Photo credit: © nogoud -

Michel Operto

I've been leading IT projects for more than 20 years at telecom and computer manufacturers: Thomson Sintra, Digital Equipment, NCR, Nortel Networks, Orange Business. My passion is Project Management and leadership and I run a blog on the PM best practices at