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Task Times, The Planning Fallacy, and a Magical 20%
Merlin Mann | Aug 13 2008
Via The Guardian, via Chairman Gruber, comes this post from the new-to-me blog, Overcoming Bias. It discusses the research behind a common cognitive bias known as The Planning Fallacy, which is a repeatable, documented error in thinking that apparently explains why we all tend to "underestimate task-completion times."
Sounds familiar. From the Overcoming Bias post:
Cf: The Optimism Bias.
In my days as a project manager (and in another life as a freelance designer), I got into a habit that has served me well to this day: get the best estimate of both job requirements and time-to-completion that you can find. Then add 20%. Then, when nobody is looking, add another 20%. Then pray.
Although it's no inoculation against the (apparently immutable nature of) Hofstadter's Law -- and you'll still end up short most of the time -- it can help you do one thing much better: manage expectations. Because you're a project manager, not a magician. Magicians get cooler hats.
I think planning a project is ultimately a little like throwing a donut at the moon. You can never actually hit the target, plus you'll be lucky if you aren't hit in the face on the way down.
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