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Common Sense Tricks for Project Managers: The Sanity Check

written by: John P. Reiling • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 8/7/2017

As a project manager, you must bring order to the chaos that is often close at hand in the form of recommendations, ideas or actions that can influence project outcomes. How can you delve beyond the rational, using your best instincts, and bring the ultimate value to your projects?

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    Sanity Check At the end of the day, does it all make sense? We need to ask this question in every situation where we are relying on input information. It may be the most logical, the most rigorous, the most disciplined, but something seems to be missing. You need to pay attention to your gut and do a sanity check. If your gut tells you it is wrong, explore why.

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    Know the Signs

    Here are the sure signs that you need a sanity check:

    1. Very complex issue: The complex can be the enemy of the simple, and you want to boil things down to simplistic terms that you can wrap your head around. Don’t let the complex, which sometimes can mask the reality, prevent you from using basic, sound reasoning.
    2. Info is counter-intuitive: The logic of an analysis may sound good and may have a sound basis in math, science, or some other body of knowledge. However, some piece of it may seem counter-intuitive to your senses and require further investigation.
    3. Process intensive: In some situations, process takes over. While there are good reasons for solid processes, sometimes the process shields us from dealing face to face with the reality – and using our heads!
    4. Too many cooks: When decision-making is not localized, and influencers actually have control over certain facets of the project, the results can become skewed. If you are responsible for the decision and outcome, you need to be able to recognize this and exercise your authority or influence.
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    Blink

    In Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, he talks about the power of the gut instinct versus the potential weakness of the rational mind. Using research from psychology and behavioral economics applied to interesting true stories, he shows how mental processes can work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information.

    This is where the gut can meet the seemingly rational head on. You have to remember that your ‘gut’ is the sum total of all of your prior experiences, thoughts, and emotions and not just a shot from the hip. Listen to it, and be sure to do a sanity check when presented with rational analysis results.

    What have you faced –or are you facing now– that needs a sanity check?

Common Sense Tricks for Project Managers

This series of four articles on ‘common sense tricks for project managers covers changing perspectives, understanding roles and relationships, BLUF and beginning with the end in mind.
  1. Common Sense Tricks for Project Managers: The Sanity Check
  2. Common Sense Tricks for Project Managers: Organizational Roles and Relationships
  3. Common Sense Tricks for Project Managers: Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)
  4. Common Sense Tricks for Project Managers: Begin with the End in Mind