Planning Fallacy

(4 minutes of reading time) How many times have you delayed the delivery of a project because you underestimated the time required for execution? Come and read today's text to understand why we always make this mistake

Planning Fallacy

(4 minutes of reading time)

How many times, when you get up and do your daily plan, you plan item by item including your work schedule, physical activity, some leisure and fun but, when you sit in front of the computer, you realize that you underestimated the time needed to perform an activity and time goes away... and 12 hours later you were unable to complete even one of the activities?

For psychology, this act of being optimistic with the time needed to develop a task has a name: Planning Fallacy.

Every day we are victims of the planning fallacy, and it's not because we procrastinate or because we lack the maturity or knowledge to perform a certain task. It's simply optimism in planning our time, after all, who doesn't want to include dozens of activities in a single day? But most of the time we underestimate the time needed and find ourselves frustrated for never being able to complete everything we planned.

In today's text we will talk a little more about how to avoid this frustration caused by the planning fallacy!

The concept of planning fallacy was created by the economists and psychologists Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize winner and author of the book “Fast and Slow”) and Amos Tversk. It is the name given to a cognitive bias that explains how we, humans, tend to underestimate the time it will take to complete a task, swearing it will take less time than it actually will. This phenomenon sometimes occurs regardless of the individual's knowledge that previous tasks of a similar nature took longer to complete than usually planned.

In 2003, Kahneman expanded this definition to the tendency to underestimate not only the time but also the costs and risks of these actions. According to this definition, the planning fallacy results not only in time overruns, but also in cost overruns and benefit reduction. Thus, we see projects all over the world that are delayed and end up costing much more than expected and thousands of business plans quickly sink.

Research confirms that the planning fallacy is far more common than we realize. In schools and universities, it can be observed among both students and staff. In the IT area studies show that less than a third of projects meet the initial deadline.

The planning fallacy can also help us understand why people don't file their tax returns on time, year after year, leave their Christmas shopping to the last minute, and often show up late for work. In all cases, past delays do not reduce the chances of meeting the deadline in the future. In other words, we already have experiences in these activities and even so, year after year we continue to be late. That's because, one theory is that the planning fallacy results from our broader tendency to focus on the details of a scenario rather than the big picture – what Kahneman calls considering the "inside view". And the problem is that our failures to meet deadlines are usually due to less predictable and more general factors, such as distractions caused by other tasks, commuting difficulties or even illness.

It is setbacks like the ones mentioned above that have probably caused us to miss deadlines in the past. Now, recognizing this fact can help us anticipate some of these issues in the future. However, by focusing too much on highly specific details of our current task and ignoring our past experiences, we fail to consider the chances of delay and errors.

The circumstances of current and past projects may not be exactly the same, but these past experiences can serve as a basis to help set a more realistic timeline, which you can refine with specific details.


Here are some tips to avoid those project delivery delays that keep IT professionals up at night:

1) Do not underestimate your previous experiences, they are essential for you to be realistic and regarding the execution time of each task.

2) Organize your priority list so you don't waste time on non-essential tasks.

3) Learn to delegate tasks if that's possible.

4) If it is necessary to change any deadline, do it as soon as possible, so your customer will have time to organize themselves.

Following these tips, we will be less prone to unproductivity, not to mention that we can greatly improve our quality of life.

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