I am the Evil Project Manager. 

In this reveal, I show you the top 10 ways I play with your mind – leaving the projects of the untrained and unaware putty in my hands; ready for manipulation. You can expect that in future articles I will speak about concepts like this in further detail, but to whet your appetite, here are my favorites:


1)      Using vague problem, project, or situation statements

2)      Prioritizing using a single dimension

3)      Masquerading Opinion as fact

4)      Creating Musts out of Wants

5)      Stating objectives that are difficult to measure

6)      Removing alternatives to force a choice

7)      Double-Dinging after a decision has been made

8)      Inducing Analysis Paralysis during Risk Management sessions

9)      Bringing up old wounds / Lessons “Learned”

10)   Using overgeneralizations to your advantage



1)      Using vague problem, project, or situation statements


What: Incorrectly or poor specification of the main objective of the project. The results to achieve are stated in a way that does not balance creativity and range of alternatives.


Why I Use this technique: A poor statement allows you to very quickly request resources based on vague specifications and hold on to them. Often, this creates a sense of urgency or panic, which can also raise your project priority in a portfolio setting. Left uncontrolled the project environment has issues controlling scope, time, quality, and costs.



During Incidents and Problems – “The system is not correctly processing data”

Project Statements – “Improve efficiency at the plant”

Situation Statements – “Understand customer complaints”


Best Defense: Ask questions to separate and clarify the issue at hand


“What do you mean by…”

“What evidence do you have to suggest that….”

–          “What do you see/feel/taste/touch/smell that alerts you to this condition?”

“What results are we trying to achieve”

–          Use the Evil PM So What Test: “So What? What do those results do for us?”


Clarify Problems into specific Object and specific Deviation:

“2000 Acura Integra Type-R AC Compressor does not function”


Clarify Actions into Verb-Noun form:

“Find cause of manufacturing smudges on shoes”

Clarify Decisions into a choice word, results, and modifiers

“Select a method to handle customer product complaints at the Toronto facility”

2)      Prioritizing using a single dimension


What: Allowing multiple components of seriousness, urgency, and growth to be considered all at once.


Why I use this technique: By mixing components of priority in single statements, you can achieve a greater priority for your issue, or reduce the priority of issues for others. Fun!

Examples: “I understand that John’s concern scores the highest priority according to our priority setting decision tree, but mine could affect a thousand users and most customers say it needs to be handled ASAP!”

Best Defense: For each concern on a project, rather than assigning a single priority value in one conversation, split the conversation into three distinct questioning phases.

Phase 1: Gather and record data that speaks to the current impact, pain, or status

Phase 2: Gather and record data that speaks to the future impact, or potential of the problem to grow if we do nothing. Use of the word “if” when someone is presenting data is a clear indicator that phase 2 is where that evidence should sit.

Phase 3: Gather and record data that speaks to a known and defined time where the concern will become expensive, difficult, or irrelevant. ASAP does not count as data!

Once you have gathered all your data, priorities should become clearer.

3)      Masquerading Opinion as fact


What: Stating something in a way that shows you have confidence in the answer, but in reality it is simply an assumption


Why I use this technique: Because it works. Throwing out assumptions is simple, and people rarely question its backing.


Example: “Apple products, and the iPhone are simply made for the demanding consumer that looks to be recognized for luxury and status”

Best Defense: Simply ask “what evidence” based questions and probe for specific details around what research, or which of the 5 human senses has gathered this data first hand.

4)      Creating musts out of wants


What: When making decisions on projects, stating an item in a way that the project cannot complete without meeting the item requirement


Why I use this technique: Sometimes I have an idea of the solution I want to win, and in order for it to be selected I ensure that objectives are “fixed” in a way to help me win.


Bonus points if you can link a must with a statement regarding cost, time, or performance.


Example: “We must be searching for a product made in America – it shows that we support our economy and are selective about our quality”


The most common of these examples relates to costs “We must save money on the purchase”, “We cannot spend more than 250,000 on the new software tools”


Best Defense: Three questions is all that is necessary to help combat these unnecessarily upgraded objectives.

a)      Is this objective a requirement, policy, or restriction? Has it been declared as mandatory?

b)      Does a minimum floor or maximum ceiling limit exist for the objective in question?

c)       Is the objective realistic? Can alternatives be found that satisfy this condition?


5)      Stating objectives that are difficult to measure

What: Making an objective of project or decision success related to an item that is difficult to measure.

Why I use this technique: The less well-defined your measurements around objectives, the easier it is to take a winning project and make it seem like a loser, or a failing project and make it look like a winner.

Example: “Project must deliver customer satisfaction”

Best Defense: As part of the sign off requirements to proceed from definition stage, incorporate a component that reviews the units of measure that determine the success or failure of an objective. Ask if the unit correctly has the appropriate amount of range, can be collected consistently, and avoid binary measurements (yes/no)

6)      Removing alternatives to force a choice


What: Limiting the pool of alternatives so that you are backed into a corner when making a decision


Why I use this technique: I want my “pet” or favorite alternative to win. I may have already invested energy, have a pre-existing relationship, or the decision supports an overall strategy or agenda I am trying to achieve.


Example: “Only two companies make software tools that link with Sharepoint – therefore they are the only items we considered”


Best Defense: Be wary of decisions when only two or three alternatives are “viable” choices. Often this is due to poor project statements or improperly defined musts.  Very often the project statement, and objectives should be reviewed and re-written to ensure that the result and objective and clear. The Evil Project Manager So What Test™ can been utilized – “So what – what does this project try to achieve for us?” to help achieve this.


7)      Double-Dinging after a decision has been made

What: Penalizing a poor performing task, concern, or alternative more than once by exploiting a weakness and bringing it up for consideration more than once.

Why I use this technique: To make a specific task, concern, or alternative look worse than it actually is.

Example: “Evil PM Wireless is the most expensive provider of cell-phone plans – even though it performed highest in performance against all our objectives, we should really consider our costs!”

Best Defense: When making decisions separate the analysis of performance and the analysis of future risks. Ensure that when performance is being ascertained that evidence based data is being gathered and used to rate overall performance of an alternative against one another. When discussing risks, ensure that the conversation does not focus on performance, but instead, known unknowns, that is, things that we could foresee happening in the future if the alternative in question is selected and implemented.


8)      Inducing Analysis Paralysis during Risk Management sessions


What: Overwhelming a decision maker by the size/scope of the mess.


Why I use this technique: To delay a project or cover up my reason for delay in the project. To request additional resources by making a mountain out of a molehill.


Example: “Oh you don’t want to do that! – During the data center move the snow could cause our moving truck to slide off the road and damage equipment, the driver could be drunk, cabling could be forgotten, switch settings accidentally hit during loading, equipment stolen etc. etc. etc. we should simply sell this equipment and buy net new.”


Best Defense: When considering lists during brainstorming sessions such as during risk gathering, concern identification, or task definition always approach using four phases.


Phase 1: Brainstorming – gathering the information

Phase 2: Prioritizing – Understand the gathered data from a probability perspective

Phase 3: Prioritizing – Understanding the gathered data from an impact perspective

Phase 4: Prioritizing – Finally prioritize the list based on probability x impact


9)      Bringing up old wounds / lessons “learned”


What: Using lessons “learned” on similar projects to strike fear in others of making the same mistake again.


Why I use this technique: To remove alternatives off the table that I don’t agree with, to promptly cause others to consider other alternative suggestions (like my favorites).


Example: “Ooh, the last time we did a data conversion we lost half our database! Imagine the customer complaints we will have this time…..let’s just leave the data alone and modify the software tools instead”


Best Defense: Add the scary thoughts to the risk register, have a separate meeting to determine (if necessary) probability and impact of each. Then attempt to setup preventative actions to reduce the likely probability and containment actions to reduce the likely impact.


10)   Using overgeneralizations to your advantage

What: Exaggerated statements or sweeping judgments based on a single fact or a group of observations.


Why I use this technique: Overgeneralizations complicate the matter at hand and engage intuitive thinking in a manner which helps to form incorrect opinions, greatly shifting the decision making, risk management, or planning process from systematic and rational to assumption based and distorted.

Example: “All birds can fly”

Best Defense: Once an overgeneralization is stated, it’s too late – everyone in the room has heard it and may become distorted in their thinking. The best way to handle this situation is to focus on the facts, reminding everyone that a single piece of information should not be the basis for a widely cast net of exaggerated thinking. Be careful when using your intuition, look for ways to establish how much of the fact is true, and how much is exaggerated. Think about if apples to apples comparisons are being made and if the facts remain true in the context you are in, as opposed to the context they were generated from.


Well there you have it. From one PM to another; the top ten ways groups can become distorted in thinking, irrational in their behavior, and poor in their decision making – all from a few key methods. If you have any specific challenges about topics in problem solving, decision making, project management, risk management, or situation appraisal, feel free to drop me a line; If I’m still in a good mood, you just might become the next topic you see addressed in this space.

Until then; stay evil.


“Because you can’t argue with all the fools in the world. It’s easier to let them have their way, then trick them when they’re not paying attention.”
? Christopher Paolini, Inheritance Cycle