Friday, August 2, 2013

The IKEA effect

This is another take on Irrationality and its impacts on Project Management. And this time it's about the IKEA Effect, a bias that is not even listed under Wikipedia's long bias list.
In short, the IKEA effect consists on our tendency to value the things we invest our time and effort on more than others that are very similar. If you're familiar with IKEA (a Swedish manufacturer where you buy stuff that you must assemble at home), the name is perfect and it says it all.
Curious enough? Please keep on reading then.

This is not rocket science

The English proverb "If you want a thing done well, do it yourself" clearly shows that this IKEA Effect thing has been incorporated into the English popular culture a long while back. The same goes for the Portuguese proverb "Quem quer vai, quem não quer manda" (meaning something like "Go if you want it, if not send someone else", not very different from the previous English one) and from here I wouldn't be surprised if you find such a proverb in any given language.
The point is, this IKEA Effect is really straight forward. We've known about it since we were born even if we've never really thought about it and its implications on Project Management. But we do know about it and it's pretty simple stuff.

Boxes, Lego and Origami

In this 2011 paper "The 'IKEA Effect'-When Labor Leads to Love" by Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely, they set up a series of lab experiments where people were asked to build IKEA boxes, Legos and origami in a few different contexts: some people are given the wrong instructions, some the right instructions, and others have a lab guy by their side that undoes whatever they're doing: for instance, tearing the Lego apart, piece by piece, after the volunteer has successfully assembled it. Of course those with the wrong instructions are never able to complete their tasks.
The conclusion? Well, in short, and please read carefully and remember these next words:
When you put your effort on successfully building something you value it more.

This is no news

The fact is that this is no news: but it's good to see that there's an experimental corroboration of it. If you need some examples, consider these:
  • Aren't your kids the best?
  • Isn't your home the house where you feel most comfortable in?
Because they (kids, home or whatever consumes your time and effort) require some effort from your part, you value them more than others similar to them. But this only happens if you somehow find them successful, this is, if your home has all the requirements you want and if it's "working" the way you expect, than you find it better than any other similar house. Period.
But imagine you've always wanted a deck with a barbecue and you don't have it now, or if you feel the need for a home study and your house doesn't have one: than this doesn't apply. Simple, isn't it? And somehow familiar already - even if the now named IKEA Effect.

Cakes, mixtures and eggs

One good real life example goes back to the 1950s in the United States. The story goes like this: for the first time someone came up with pre-made cake mixtures. All there was to do was mix some water and put in the oven, but somehow the housewives (the target public back then for this product) didn't find it interesting. After some inquiring, the reason behind it was that housewifes felt there wasn't enough of them in the cakes. Solution? These mixtures now all require eggs. Adding an egg was enough for housewifes to feel that now it was their cake they were baking. Odd, but true. Go figure it, but that's the way it goes.

Stakeholder Management

The impact of the IKEA Effect on Project Management is straight forward: people on project teams aim to successfully build stuff (deliverables or outputs), right? So they value it! So it looks like the more deliverables the people on your project team have to build the more value they will give to them. Pretty obvious, isn't it?
But taking a closer look, you'll find the impact much deeper than this. Now picture the following scenario. You've done your stakeholder analysis and ended up a handful of people that can have a strong impact on your project and that your project can really impact. For sake of simplicity, let us concentrate on the sponsor alone (but extrapolate this to any such stakeholder). How can you make your project sponsor feel like he's putting his effort into your project? You probably can't (and don't want to) attribute project tasks to the sponsor, right? So how do you make him involved?
The simpler way I know of is: ask for help. Just that. If you ask for help, if you ask the sponsor something that is clearly in his power to do and has a visible impact on your project then he will feel involved. And by feeling involved he will be under the influence of the IKEA Effect. It's as easy as that.
By the way, if you think a bit about the expression "my project" you'll find that some of the people using it are:
  • Project Managers
  • Sponsors
  • Team members
  • Suppliers
  • Clients
  • Board members
And the list goes on depending on what your project (here we go again) is. So I guess it's now pretty obvious how this works within Project Management...

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Filipe said...

Excellent article, as usual! Congratulations!

Luis Seabra Coelho said...

Hi Miguel,

Thank you for your kind words and taking the time to comment. I'm glad you enjoyed this article.

If you're interested in this particular topic (the crossover of irrationality and project management) you can check these other articles here on Ah-Ha-Moments