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String Theory: Planning For The ‘Planning Fallacy’ In Project Management

Author -  Kevin Riley

The Planning Fallacy is all about knowing how long the proverbial piece of string is... project-planning-fallacy1.jpgand then using it as a benchmark for planning purposes.

In other words, it’s all about the “tendency for people and organizations to underestimate how long they will need to complete a task, even when they have experience of similar tasks over-running”. This doesn’t just result in missed deadlines, but also in an increase in cost and a decrease in benefits.

Reaching for the stars has its drawbacks

Deadlines have been making news recently, especially when reaching for the stars, literally. The world’s largest laser (at the US National Ignition Facility in California) missed the deadline that was a key stage in achieving the goal of producing clean, safe energy via nuclear fusion.   

Not all missed deadlines are so spectacular, but they do have a detrimental effect on both the projects and the businesses involved and many of them could be avoided if time could be estimated more accurately.

Have you ever worked on a project that struggled to make the deadline – or worse still, one that missed the deadline? If you have, you’ll know that it’s not a pleasant situation. People lose their tempers, team members work late, clients get annoyed – in short, it’s stressful for everybody involved in the project.

Fundamental failure in time estimation

Chances are that when a project fails to meet the deadline, a fundamental mistake was made when estimating the amount of time needed to complete the project successfully. Estimating time accurately is an essential skill for Project Managers, one that can have a huge effect, not just on the project itself, but on everybody involved with the project. 

How Having a deadline helps

Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Chabon famously said “I have a deadline.  I’m glad.  I think that will help me get it done”. That’s cool for a writer who only has his own work schedule to manage – today’s Project Manager has a myriad issues to take into account when planning a project and setting the deadline for it.

How long is that piece of string, again?

Projects are risk magnets and one of the reasons for this is that it can be very difficult to make a correct estimation of how long a project will take to complete. There are so many dynamic aspects to projects and time is one of these. With each of the other dynamic aspects of the project having an effect on the timeline, pinpoint accuracy is notoriously hard to achieve. 

Deadline too tight to mention

An underestimated deadline will quickly lead to a deadline that feels too tight and this can have a detrimental effect on both the project and the team undertaking it. Even if such a tight deadline is met, the race to the end may be an unpleasant experience for the team, with increased stress levels, conflict and resentment.

An effective Project Manager will understand that a team faced with an underestimated deadline will suffer from low morale and lack of confidence – hardly the sort of team that will inspire faith in you or your clients. 

Successful teams are teams that are happy in their work and have the determination and tenacity to get a grip on a project and help guide it to victory, safe in the knowledge that the deadline is achievable. Working successfully on projects leads to future success for everybody involved – this really is a win-win situation.

Set a realistic deadline

Setting a fair and realistic deadline is vitally important when managing projects and part of creating a project plan will involve breaking down the project into its component tasks in order to estimate how long each will take to complete.

This involves using past experience and other sources of information to clarify the following components of each task:

“Beware the time-driven project with an artificial deadline.” — M. Dobson

Accuracy is essential

The ability to make accurate time estimations is an essential skill in project management – unexpected events will need to be taken into account as will project management administration, accidents or emergencies, breakdowns.  These are all factors that could raise the costs and the time needed to complete a project and they need to be factored in at the planning stage.

  • Work performed by people – including the physical and mental activities performed (such as assembling equipment, writing reports, brainstorming for a marketing campaign)

  • Work performed by non-human resources – these are tasks that are performed by machines and computers (such as testing software, making print-outs)

  • Physical Processes chemical of physical reactions (such as paint drying, concrete hardening, chemical reactions in a lab).

  • Time delays - this is time during which nothing is happening (such as needing to make conference room or accommodation bookings in advance.

At Project Laneways NZ, we specialise in training business professionals in the skills they need to ensure success. Our PRINCE2 Practitioner course will equip you with the skills and tools you need to work on or manage projects to ensure a successful outcome.

If you’d like to become an internationally recognised PRINCE2 registered practitioner, check out our course details here, or call us on 09 974 2977 or 04 974 4099.

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String Theory: Planning For The ‘Planning Fallacy’ In Project Management

The Planning Fallacy is all about knowing how long the proverbial piece of string is... and then using it as a benchmark for planning purposes. In other words, it’s all about the “tendency for people and organizations to underestimate how long they will need to complete a task, even when they have experience of similar tasks over-running”. This doesn’t just result in missed deadlines, but also in an increase in cost and a decrease in benefits.

The Planning Fallacy is all about knowing how long the proverbial piece of string is... project-planning-fallacy1.jpgand then using it as a benchmark for planning purposes.

In other words, it’s all about the “tendency for people and organizations to underestimate how long they will need to complete a task, even when they have experience of similar tasks over-running”. This doesn’t just result in missed deadlines, but also in an increase in cost and a decrease in benefits.

Reaching for the stars has its drawbacks

Deadlines have been making news recently, especially when reaching for the stars, literally. The world’s largest laser (at the US National Ignition Facility in California) missed the deadline that was a key stage in achieving the goal of producing clean, safe energy via nuclear fusion.   

Not all missed deadlines are so spectacular, but they do have a detrimental effect on both the projects and the businesses involved and many of them could be avoided if time could be estimated more accurately.

Have you ever worked on a project that struggled to make the deadline – or worse still, one that missed the deadline? If you have, you’ll know that it’s not a pleasant situation. People lose their tempers, team members work late, clients get annoyed – in short, it’s stressful for everybody involved in the project.

Fundamental failure in time estimation

Chances are that when a project fails to meet the deadline, a fundamental mistake was made when estimating the amount of time needed to complete the project successfully. Estimating time accurately is an essential skill for Project Managers, one that can have a huge effect, not just on the project itself, but on everybody involved with the project. 

How Having a deadline helps

Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Chabon famously said “I have a deadline.  I’m glad.  I think that will help me get it done”. That’s cool for a writer who only has his own work schedule to manage – today’s Project Manager has a myriad issues to take into account when planning a project and setting the deadline for it.

How long is that piece of string, again?

Projects are risk magnets and one of the reasons for this is that it can be very difficult to make a correct estimation of how long a project will take to complete. There are so many dynamic aspects to projects and time is one of these. With each of the other dynamic aspects of the project having an effect on the timeline, pinpoint accuracy is notoriously hard to achieve. 

Deadline too tight to mention

An underestimated deadline will quickly lead to a deadline that feels too tight and this can have a detrimental effect on both the project and the team undertaking it. Even if such a tight deadline is met, the race to the end may be an unpleasant experience for the team, with increased stress levels, conflict and resentment.

An effective Project Manager will understand that a team faced with an underestimated deadline will suffer from low morale and lack of confidence – hardly the sort of team that will inspire faith in you or your clients. 

Successful teams are teams that are happy in their work and have the determination and tenacity to get a grip on a project and help guide it to victory, safe in the knowledge that the deadline is achievable. Working successfully on projects leads to future success for everybody involved – this really is a win-win situation.

Set a realistic deadline

Setting a fair and realistic deadline is vitally important when managing projects and part of creating a project plan will involve breaking down the project into its component tasks in order to estimate how long each will take to complete.

This involves using past experience and other sources of information to clarify the following components of each task:

“Beware the time-driven project with an artificial deadline.” — M. Dobson

Accuracy is essential

The ability to make accurate time estimations is an essential skill in project management – unexpected events will need to be taken into account as will project management administration, accidents or emergencies, breakdowns.  These are all factors that could raise the costs and the time needed to complete a project and they need to be factored in at the planning stage.

  • Work performed by people – including the physical and mental activities performed (such as assembling equipment, writing reports, brainstorming for a marketing campaign)

  • Work performed by non-human resources – these are tasks that are performed by machines and computers (such as testing software, making print-outs)

  • Physical Processes chemical of physical reactions (such as paint drying, concrete hardening, chemical reactions in a lab).

  • Time delays - this is time during which nothing is happening (such as needing to make conference room or accommodation bookings in advance.

At Project Laneways NZ, we specialise in training business professionals in the skills they need to ensure success. Our PRINCE2 Practitioner course will equip you with the skills and tools you need to work on or manage projects to ensure a successful outcome.

If you’d like to become an internationally recognised PRINCE2 registered practitioner, check out our course details here, or call us on 09 974 2977 or 04 974 4099.

String Theory: Planning For The ‘Planning Fallacy’ In Project Management
 

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