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Dealing with Project Contribution Bias

Project contribution bias is an ongoing issue in work environments, magnified by factors including skill-distance, social distance and physical distance from the other person or team. The further somebody is away from the other across those criteria the greater the effect of that bias.

Project contribution bias manifests through comments like – “User Experience isn’t a real job”… “What do marketers do anyway?”… “All the manager does is sit in their office”… “We don’t talk to the multimedia department because we’ve got a feud running.”

This bias is a real problem emanating from an internal organisational pressure to form silos and the corresponding pressure from within those silos to exclude people and information outside the boundary. This fundamental xenophobic attitude is therefore reinforced from outside and inside the silo and makes it particularly difficult to overcome.

Taking a closer look at the three factors – skill-distance, social distance and physical distance – it becomes easier to see the issue. We see it all the time in another manifestation within the organisation. Racism. To some extent, both trace back to an our tribe versus their tribe mentality and both are underpinned by failing to take the time to understand the other tribe.

Skill-distance means the gap between two separate roles. For example, the designer has a wad of core knowledge and experience about a wide range of science underpinning their skillset. A marketer has experience with strategic issues ranging from product creation, supply and distribution through to after-sales satisfaction and that’s also underpinned by theoretical knowledge and experience.

Neither is aware of what they don’t know… their assumptions and biases are free to fill in the gaps.

We therefore employ a biased assumption that all of our knowledge and work is our contribution to the project. While, the little we know or understand about the other is their contribution to the work.

Social distance means the gap between each person or group’s cultural norms and relationship circles. A group of designers will have an entirely separate set of stories, language, rituals, ceremonies, heroes, values, structures and symbols than the accounting department. It’s unlikely they will socially interact either at work or out of hours.

Physical distance means the other person is not visible – a separate office or department, working from separate geographic locations or using tools and equipment that create invisible interactions. Any physical barrier provides physical distance.

However, a smart organisation is working just as hard to break down those silos and emancipate their resources and information assets. It’s not necessarily a stagnant one-way progression.

The important thing to take away from this knowledge is a recognition of those manifestations of project contribution bias and the way these three factors magnify the distortion.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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