….two hours later we’re still at it. It’s experienced by almost all of us, all too often. It stems from our natural human tendency to be optimistic. This trait has no doubt given us great evolutionary advantages over the centuries. When it comes to time management, underestimation can be catastrophic: project delays, unhappy clients, stifled creativity, long hours, stress
How Do We End Up Underestimating?
Interior designers have a great deal of experience working on projects for clients, it’s central to the creative process. Yet, so often we underestimate. It happens for a number of reasons:
- We rely on our intuition, rather than history. Often it’s not that past results are disregarded, they’re not looked at all
- When we do consider history we often reliant upon recollection, not data. Unfortunately, our memories are not very reliable: they can be overly influenced by a limited number of events
- We assume the project will be plain sailing. Nothing will go wrong in the project, nothing will go wrong outside the project which could delay the project
What Drives Underestimation
As discussed in the introduction, we are heavily influenced by our natural tendency to be optimistic. That natural optimism is further encouraged for two reasons: expectations of others and expectations of ourselves. Expectations of others, whether its our bosses or our clients. We’re not going to look good if our competitors or colleagues give a completion estimate of 6 weeks and we say 10. We also have a tendency to attribute our successes to our own abilities and our past failures to factors outside our control. We therefore expect that it will go better this time
What to do about it
Recognising our own tendency for optimism is not enough. We need to actively improve our ability to estimate. A few simple steps:
- Collect the evidence, but keep it simple. Estimate a project’s elapsed time at the start. Once complete compare the project’s actual elapsed time to this estimate. Dividing actual by estimated gives a factor which can be applied to future estimates
- Use your body clock. We’re more optimistic when full of energy. Save those times to unleash your creativity and use your less productive periods for project estimation. Most of us are least productive in the early afternoon, the ‘post lunch slump’
- Peer review. We are more likely to be optimistic about our own abilities than the abilities of others. Ask someone to look over your project estimates and challenge your assumptions. Listen to what they have to say!
- Come up with a worst case estimate; imagine your project was beset with problems. Due to optimism, the original estimate will be most likely a best case scenario. The Law of Averages dictates reality will sit between the worst case and original time estimate
- Present the evidence. Meeting expectations achieves satisfaction more readily that over-promising and under-delivering. Demonstrate to clients and bosses that your estimates prove correct over time, challenge others to do the same
Better Estimation, Means a Better Life
Overcoming our natural tendency to be optimistic, to underestimate will benefit us no end: reduced stress, unleashed creativity, happy clients, happy loved ones. Resisting the pressure to over-promise and under-deliver means we effectively manage the lesser problem of client / boss expectations, and avoid the later, bigger problems of disappointment, anger, loss of trust
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