Underestimation: We All Do It

It’ll only take a minute….two hours later we’re still at it. It’s something we all experience, far too often. It stems from our natural human tendency to be optimistic. It no doubt gave us great evolutionary advantages over the centuries. However, underestimation is catastrophic for time management. It results in project delays, unhappy clients, stifled creativity, long hours, stress

How Do We End Up Underestimating?

Interior designers have a great deal of experience of client project work. It’s central to the creative process. Yet, so often we underestimate. And it happens for a number of reasons:

  1. We rely on our intuition, rather than history. Often it’s not that past results are disregarded. They’re not looked at all
  2. Even when we consider history we’re often reliant upon recollection, not data. However, our memories aren’t reliable. They’re overly influenced by a few events
  3. We assume it’ll all be plain sailing. Nothing will go wrong in the project. And nothing will go wrong outside the project to delay it
What Drives Underestimation

Our natural tendency to be optimistic guides us. And we find reasons to support our optimism. First, from other’s expectations. We won’t look good if our competitors give a completion estimate of six weeks, and we say ten. Second, from our expectations of ourselves. We often attribute success to our own abilities. But we blame our failures on factors outside our control. Therefore, we expect things to go better next time

How to Stop Underestimation

To recognise our tendency for optimism is a good start. More than that, we need to actively improve our ability to estimate. Here’s a few simple tips:

  1. Collect the evidence. Before the project starts, estimate how long it’ll take. Once complete, work out how long it actually took. For simplicity, use elapsed time, not person-hours. Use the estimate and actual to create a factor to apply to future estimates
  2. Use your body clock. We’re more optimistic when full of energy. Therefore, save your less productive periods for project estimation. Most of us are least productive in the early afternoon. Or put another way, in the ‘post lunch slump
  3. Peer review. We’re more likely to be optimistic about our own abilities than the abilities of others. Ask someone review your project estimates. More importantly, challenge your assumptions. And listen to what they have to say!
  4. Use a worst case estimate. In other words, imagine your project was beset with problems. Most likely your original estimate is the best case scenario. Therefore, the Law of Averages dictates reality will be between the worst case and original estimates
  5. Present the evidence. People are satisfied when their expectations are met. Not when we’ve over-promised and under-delivered. Over time, demonstrate to clients and bosses that your estimates prove correct. And challenge others to do the same
Better Estimation, Better All Round

To sum up, to overcome our natural tendency for optimism and estimate better benefits us no end. As a result we’ll have less stress, unleashed creativity, happy clients, happy loved ones. Likewise, manage the lesser problem of client and boss expectations. Therefore, resist the urge to over-promise and under-deliver. Consequently, we avoid the later, bigger, problems of disappointment, anger, loss of trust

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