Combining Behavioral Science with Project Management


The Road to Improvement



By John Cable, Director

Project Management Center for Excellence
A. James Clark School of Engineering
University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland, USA

In our 2020 Project Management Symposium at the University of Maryland, we launched the idea of having one of our featured speakers present on how brain functioning impacts the management of projects, and we featured Josh Ramirez[1] speaking on “Redesigning Project Management Around the Brain”. In the 2021 Symposium, Dr. Shari De Baets[2] delighted the audience by sharing insights from her research on the intersection of behavioral science and project management “Combining Behavioral Science with Project Management: The Road to Improvement”. This article is a summary of the highlights of her presentation.

People want to do their jobs well. They want to work in cooperative, engaging teams, and build good products.  But project managers generally consider projects to be successful only when they are completed within boundaries of scope, time, cost and quality. Sometimes, they succeed. More often, they fail. Why? Because traditional project management methods have scarcely acknowledged the true impact of human experience and behavior on the outcome of a project.

The strategic decisions involved in project management can make or break a company; yet most business leaders would admit the quality of their decisions are far from perfect. Understanding what propels people’s behavior is among the key factors that drive successful project management—and it is a factor many project managers need to consider much more as they determine how best to deliver top results in an environment that is often complex, volatile, and uncertain.

Along the way, we have all learned about the brain’s fight-or-flight response to physical stressors. But we are not nearly as familiar with the idea that our brain responds acutely to social stressors—like the ones we find in our workplace—in the same way. Dr. De Baets’s research indicates that re-evaluating and revising decisions to account for how the brain actually operates will make the difference between project failure and success.

The brain is pretty amazing, but it still has limitations. She talks about introducing metrics that can take human factors into account, instead of just measuring hard data. According to Dr. De Baets research, we need to design our interfaces around how people think, make it easier for people to make decisions, and train employees in how to handle cognitive errors.

So, how can behavioral science be applied to making project managers better?


To read entire article, click here

How to cite this paper: Cable, J. H. (2021). Combining Behavioral Science with Project Management: The Road to Improvement, Commentary, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/pmwj107-Jul2021-Cable-combining-behavioral-science-with-project-management.pdf

 About the Author

John Cable

Director, Project Management Center for Excellence
University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA


 John Cable is Director of the Project Management Center for Excellence in the A.James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, where he is also a professor and teacher of several graduate courses in project management. His program at the University of Maryland offers masters and PhD level programs focused on project management. With more than 1,300 seats filled annually with students from many countries, including more than 40 PhD students, the program is the largest graduate program in project management at a major university in the United States.

John Cable served in the newly formed U.S. Department of Energy in 1980, where he was involved with developing energy standards for buildings, methods for measuring energy consumption, and managing primary research in energy conservation.  As an architect and builder, Mr. Cable founded and led John Cable Associates in 1984, a design build firm. In 1999 he was recruited by the University of Maryland’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering to create and manage a graduate program in project management. In his role as founder and director of the Project Management Center for Excellence at Maryland, the program has grown to offer an undergraduate minor, master’s degrees, and a doctoral program. Information about the Project Management Center for Project Management at the University of Maryland can be found at www.pm.umd.edu.

In 2002, PMI formed the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Educational Programs (GAC).  Mr. Cable was appointed to that inaugural board where he served as vice chair.  In 2006, he was elected as chairman, a role he held through 2012.  As Chair of the PMI GAC, John led the accreditation of 86 project management educational programs at 40 institutions in 15 countries in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and the Asia Pacific Region. John was awarded PMI’s 2012 Distinguished Contribution Award for his leadership at the GAC.  He can be contacted at jcable@umd.edu.

To view other works by John Cable, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/john-cable/

[1]   Founder & President, Institute for Neuro & Behavioral Project Management
[2]   Ghent University, Faculty of Economics & Business Administration




  1. […] This article appeared in PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue VI, June 2021. […]

  2. […] research, explored more thoroughly in Dr. Shari DeBaet’s presentation during UMD’s 2021 Virtual Project Management Symposium, paved a segue from traditional “logical” economics to behavioral economics. Management expert […]