I'm writing the project management book. I'm noting that sometimes PMs (and teams) perform activities that have no lasting useful effect on the project. One example is doing estimation with feedback. If you estimate but never check reality against those estimates, that's an example of “mental masturbation: it feels good but there's no lasting effect.” That's fine for a rough draft book, but it feels not quite right in a final manuscript. I'm afraid it sounds a bit blaming. (No, I'm nowhere near final manuscript.)
Got any ideas? My editor suggested Soduku (a mental exercise that has no lasting effect). That doesn't quite fit for me either. I'm thinking of calling these activities “thought exercises” as opposed to “moving-the-project-forward activities” but I don't really like that either.
If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them. And of course I will acknowledge you if I use your phrase in the book. If you like the phrase mental masturbation, let me know that too.
Update of Sept 21, 2006: Wow, thank you all. You've given me lots of ideas to consider. If you still have ideas, please leave them in comments or send me email. Thank you.