Mrs Lawther wants an extension to the kitchen, she also wants us to break into the loft and build (or, as she says, create) another bedroom. Her friend is an architect, she tells us that all the natural light will be uplifting. My heart on the other hand, is sinking.
Think of the noise and the dust.
No scratch that, think of the cost. I will need to get a second mortgage the size of a Baltic state’s national debt.
But apparently not, we had the builders round today and chatted it through, we have convinced ourselves that we can do it in three weeks, a month at the outside. How much can a month’s worth of building possibly cost?
The planning fallacy
I think I have just stumbled across the planning fallacy. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the planning fallacy is the fact that despite our best laid plans we always grossly under-estimate how long a project will take.
The planning fallacy is closely related to Murphy’s law but with one striking difference. Murphy’s law doesn’t exist; dropped toast doesn’t always land buttered side down. The planning fallacy on the other hand is a demonstrable fact; we do always grossly under-estimate how long a project will take. Nobody entirely knows why, but psychologists think we only focus on how long it will take to do all the things that will need to go right and completely forget all the things that could go wrong. They even have a name for it, focal bias. We miss what we aren’t focusing on and so we always under-estimate.
Bosses make it worse
It transpires that people who are in positions of power are more likely to fall foul of the planning fallacy then those who aren’t. Powerful people expect to get what they want when they want it, they demand it and fool themselves they have total control over the outcome.
The boys will be home by Christmas ~ General Douglas MacArthur (the war in Korea lasted 3 more years)
Team mates make it worse still
People working in teams are also victims of the planning fallacy. Maybe they don’t want to be neigh-sayers, maybe they want to appear to be efficient, maybe they neglect how much co-ordination is required by big teams, but people in teams suffer acutely, they under-estimate time by the calendar full.
The worst possible scenario:
A “bet your business” sized project and a chief executive pulling together a large task force to deliver that critical strategic initiative. A heady cocktail of power, desire to please and team work.
You can bet your bottom dollar (if not your business) that they will under-estimate how long it will take, and how much it will cost.
The solution isn’t perfect, but it is extremely simple. When you are planning your project, ask the assembled team for three pieces of wisdom. Ask them to think of three things that could go wrong, that could turn your project belly up.
Do that, and all of a sudden the time estimates will shoot out. And they might even be right.
So what could possibly go wrong with my extension?
- Wind and rain?
- Bureaucratic planning laws?
- Unreliable builders?
Nah… not in the UK, I’m sure we can pull it off in 3 weeks
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Image by Thristian