Plans are useful in the sense that they are proof that planning has taken place. The planning process forces people to think through the right issues. But then, everybody has a plan until they get punched on the face.
When I planned my first road trip from Bangalore to Goa, I calculated that the distance, about 560 km, should take little more than 9 hours. Factoring in stopovers and few unexpected events like a flat tyre or traffic, I assumed that 12-15 hours should be sufficient for the road trip. It turned out that I did managed to Goa in 15 hours.
Now based on this, if I had to forecast the time it would take to cover a distance of say 5,000 km, a road trip to cover major cities in India, I might be tempted to extrapolate the Bangalore-Goa trip time. I’ll probably calculate that 560 km took one day so 5,000 km should take 10 days plus 2-3 more days.
Am I being reasonable in my estimation?
What I am forgetting here is that the second road trip is not only longer but more complex and subject to many more unforeseen and unexpected events. My estimation is fraught with over-optimism bias. And I am not alone in making this kind of mistake.
There are many ways a plan can fail and most of those things are too improbable to be anticipated. The likelihood that something will go wrong especially in a big project is high. Overly optimistic forecasts of the outcome of projects are found everywhere.
In fact, how often are you able to complete everything on your to-do list at the end of the day? This shows how absurdly ambitious we’re in planning.
This bias, a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias (underestimate the time needed), is called Planning Fallacy.
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