In his book The Personal MBA
, author Josh Kaufman writes that, “People are consistently and universally horrendous at planning.”
Here are three reasons why:
1. We underestimate completion times: the more complex a project, the more interdependencies it includes. These interdependencies make it more likely that something at some point will go wrong, and delay the plan.
2. We assume everything will remain constant: by imagining that everything will happen according to the plan, we tend to underestimate the role and influence of other factors. You probably won’t see many plans that include the line item “Project manager gets sick and is out for a month.”
3. We don’t include buffer time: for a complex project, Kaufman recommends including a few months of “slack time” to account for unexpected delays and other unforeseen events. The challenge is that slack time is never seen as acceptable. If you approach an executive, customer, or partner with a plan that includes a few months of slack time, their response is likely to be some version of: “That won’t work – get it done faster.”
But the inaccuracy of plans doesn’t make planning worthless.
Plans are useful because the thought process required to create them helps you understand a project’s dependencies, requirements, and risks more thoroughly.
Kaufman’s advice is that you should use plans, but not depend on them: “as long as you keep working as quickly and effectively as possible, the project will be done as soon as it’s feasible.”