Projects and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle

June 24, 2014

Is it done yet? What’s the status? How much longer? If I get asked these questions too often on a project I take a moment to explain about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Which states states that you can’t know both the position and velocity of an electron because in measuring the one you alter the other.

The old saying goes “a watched pot never boils,” especially if you keep sticking  a new thermometer into a heating pot of water every two seconds. Observations change the system. Frequent observations can change it even more.

On a project, when you get asked for status (or position) and it alters your velocity. If you get asked often enough your velocity slows and then halts. Which isn’t the kind of change leaders are looking for.

An article in the Wall Street Journal reveals that even interruptions as short as two seconds can lead to errors.

So observation affects the system. That doesn’t mean that we can go without measuring, just that leaders, managers and project managers all need to keep in mind that the demand for constant updates alters the velocity (usually slowing) of the people in the system.