I am sure all of us have come across the phrase “devil’s advocate”. In general terms this is used to identify a person who keeps on arguing against the popular choice of the majority. In a decision making process if a person is keep on arguing in favour of another alternative, when there is an obvious answer available he is referred to as a devil’s advocate. This phrase has originated from Roman Catholic church in the process of declaring a deceased person as a saint. In the process of deciding whether he is worthy to be a saint or not (a process known as canonization), the church appointed a person, to argue against. His job was to look for negative aspects of the candidate’s character and prove that he is not worthy of recognising as a saint. This function is now known as the promoter of justice.
In management studies, there is a debate among groups about the effectiveness of having a devil’s advocate in a team, when making a decision. Some say this improves the decision making process and especially brings out creative alternatives. The counter argument is that it makes a negative impact on the team since it brings in endless arguments. I agree with the first argument since it prevents a group from coming in to conclusions without considering all the available options. I am a firm believer of this and I try to implement the same as much as possible. However this is a very painful process and needs the commitment of the whole team especially the leader. Many of the times the process could end up with unpleasant arguments so the leader needs to be aware of all possible outcomes and act accordingly.
According to IMC (The Institute of Management Consultants) USA, a similar process could be adopted to review a project plan or a proposal. A person / group called as a “murder board” or a “read team” can be used to review a project plan to identify possible break points of the plan. Obviously this is more applicable for larger complex projects involving multiple disciplines than a simple project. I will write about how we can use this concept when planning a ECM project in a separate post.
If you haven’t experienced this yet, wouldn’t it be an interesting challenge for you to be a devil’s advocate and experience the difference ?