Luis Seabra Coelho’s One Simple Thing: Common Sense

Photo: Luis Seabra Coelho

Luis Seabra Coelho

(The following article is part of our One Simple Thing…to Improve Projects series. It was contributed by Luis Seabra Coelho.  Luis blogs about Project Management on Ah-Ha-Moments and he is particularly interested in the links between businesses and Project Management – and his blog reflects that. His professional career spanned over several industries ranging from banking to health care, mainly on the IT area. He is currently working for a procurement company that is part of a top Portuguese holding. 

Luis started his professional career as a Math graduate working on software development, then moved to IT and he was then just a step away from Project Management. So it was natural for him to get certifications like the Project Management Professional and business related post graduations. And all that helped to set up his most public work to date, the Ah-Ha-Moments blog. You can follow Luis’ Tweets at https://twitter.com/@lseabra).

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“Common sense” was my immediate answer to Michael Greer when he first challenged me to answer this simple – but not easy to answer – question. This turned out a longer answer than the one Michael requested, so I adapted it to give you 2 options: you can read the bullets for the shorter version or the complete text for a more complete answer.

1. Common sense is a cultural belief based on perception.

The first thing to do is to make sure we all have the same understanding of “common sense” and a good place to start is a dictionary. So I looked it up on the two online dictionaries used the most and came up with:

  • “Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts” (in Merriam-Webster)
  • “Ordinary sensible understanding; one’s basic intelligence which allows for plain understanding and without which good decisions or judgments cannot be made.” (in Wiktionary)

In short, you’ll fins the following associated to common sense:

  • prudent judgment – as in playing safe
  • basic intelligence, simple perception, plain understanding – not an explanation of reality
  • sensible understanding – based on the senses, not reasoning
  • perception – which implies that different people and cultures may have a different “common sense”

2. In favor to common sense we have:

a) Project Management is based on common sense.

We have been doing projects for thousands of years with just a little bit more than common sense – and thus the argument that common sense is the one simple thing to improve Project Management. I’d bet that the Egyptians that built the Pyramids didn’t know the first thing about Monte Carlo simulations or soft skills. But they managed all right, didn’t they?

b) Common sense is practical.

And nowadays it’s not all that different. Common sense still rules Project Management, even if you have to master a lot of different skills and knowledge. It’s all too easy for a Project Manager to get lost in cost-benefit analysis, Earned Value Management, leads & lags, Gantt charts and Responsibility Assignment Matrixs (and any other Project Management jargon you can remember) and lose sight of the obvious. Common sense plays the key role of, at the very least, reminding you that you have something to deliver.

When you lose track of that you usually get in trouble: how many stories have you heard about companies that put a price on human lives and got burned because of it? You just can’t put a price on everything because we all consider some things priceless but then you think: “cost-benefit analysis is too good to waste so we should do it on each and every occasion we get.” And this way we lose time by being busy with something that doesn’t help us make the right decision and can even support us with some beautiful PowerPoint slides and reasoning on making the wrong decision.

3. But watch out for:

a) Project Management is more than just Common Sense.

First of all I have to emphasize that Project Management requires more than just common sense – so don’t think that common sense is enough for you to work and prosper as a Project Manager.

b) Common sense doesn’t explain reality.

Then we have another fact: common sense can misguide us. Common sense told us that the Sun orbits the Earth. It tells us that if a project is late we can add more people. It tells us that if we stick to our plan it will come true. These statements are (or were) all common sense but they are also false.

c) Common sense is cultural.

There’s also the fact that common sense is cultural so people around you feel and think about the same as you do. Common sense is not of much help when you need creativity, innovation or just thinking outside the box.

d) Common sense never proves anything.

And common sense is made of beliefs, not proofs — because in most cases it pays to believe something and act quickly upon the reality with just that rather than invest time and effort in exploring to reach a conclusion. If you have any doubts on this one, just ask people you work with in what position should new born babies sleep. You probably won’t expect the variety of answers I’m sure you’ll get.

 

Posted: December 9th, 2011 under One Simple Thing, Project Management.
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