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Gain vs Loss – Project Management’s Conundrum

By:  Collin Quiring

Project Management is usually involved in the creation of “the new” or the modification of “the old”.  In the beginning stages of a Project almost everybody involved talks about the great benefits, the wonderful aspects of the newer version and how they can’t wait for the change.  More often than not, however, those same people seem to throw up roadblocks to accomplishing the goals of the project as it becomes closer to fruition.


Why?  There are all sorts of reasons that cause this behavior but I think that one of the key ones is the perception of gain versus loss.  When it gets down to it, people tend to like “the devil they know” instead of having to do things differently.  Besides the issues that come with something new like having to be trained in a new tool or process comes the psychological balance of risk/benefit or of gain/loss.  People tend to talk about how they want something better – newer and improved.  But, the desire to stay with the known version of what they have is extremely strong.


The need for the Project Manager is to understand that just because people are excited about the gains as a result of their project they need to know what those people feel is being lost.  As Project Managers, we can become immersed in the details and tangible results of the project and forget about some of the effects to the existing situation.  As I talked about in a previous blog about marketing the concept of Project Management we need to be addressing the concerns of the stakeholders in how it affects their current (soon to be “old”) tools and methods.  This is part of the marketing and changing the perception that Project Management is only about disrupting the status quo.


Project Managers must understand that the gain/loss mindset exists for every person affected by the results of the project – some of whom may not be direct stakeholders in the project itself.  We concentrate and promote the gain part of the project – which we need to do.  But, a essential piece of the project should be to try to understand and address what the gain/loss equation looks like to the people involved.  The transition of losing the “old” and gaining the “new” won’t be as difficult if there is an attempt to assuage the loss part of the equation, rather than just concentrating on the gains.




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