Biases in Project Escalation: Names, Frames & Construal Levels Defended on Thursday, 14 January 2016

Many information system (IS) projects are unable to meet their targets or even fail completely. Decision makers in these projects unfortunately aren’t always perfectly rational and they may be prone to biases which can lead to irrational decision making. As a result of such biases, project escalation can occur where resources continue to be devoted to a failing project.

In this dissertation, several biases are studied which thus far have remained (mostly) unexplored as causal factors of project escalation. Results from three studies indicate that both project names and construal levels can bias decision makers and that they can increase the likelihood of project escalation. A fourth study applies a previously known causal factor of escalation, framing, in a novel manner. The findings suggest that there is a strong link between the framing of managers and their view of a project.

Combined, the studies demonstrate that factors which at first sight may seem innocent or unimportant are quite capable of influencing the likelihood of project escalation. In fact, even factors that are completely unrelated to the project itself also appear to be capable of influencing project decision making indirectly. These findings underline the importance of not only focusing on characteristics of the project and the organizational context but also on the potential biases of the decision maker in order to obtain a more complete view when evaluating projects.


Escalation, (IS) Project Management, Decision Making, Biases, Project names, Framing, Information leakage, Construal Level Theory (CLT)

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