LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

May 2024
Volume 20, Issue 5

These are free monthly tips on boosting business and professional results.

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Note from the Author

Let's Talk about Project Prognostications!

Woman holding a wrenchWhat is your project crystal ball telling you? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could simply consult a glass orb to obtain a prediction of project success?

I would love to know in advance, for example, if my estimates will really allow enough time to fulfill the lofty goals I set out to complete at the start of any new undertaking.

Yet, every time I begin a major new endeavor — or aim to tackle just a few relatively unfamiliar tasks — I'm reminded of how often I launch those efforts in a highly optimistic or even overly ambitious mode.

After many years of project experience, I still fall into a few estimating traps sometimes, as do many of my clients and colleagues. That's why I thought it would be useful to put together a two-part series on estimating.

This series reveals an often-hidden set of angles that can help explain why we encounter differences between our estimates and what occurs in real life. It also suggests why our predictions can diverge in surprising ways from those of other knowledgeable people around us. Each time I revisit this topic, I discover deeper insights that I hope can help all of us get a better grip on this very slippery slope!

I hope you enjoy this month’s features, and please be sure to join the ongoing conversations by leaving your comments on my Facebook page!

Here's to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, please visit the newsletter archive!

Special Message

A Handy Quick-Reference Guide for Project Managers

"The Advanced Project Management Memory Jogger" by GOAL/QPC
I'm a big fan of GOAL/QPC's (GoalQPC.com) Memory Jogger pocket guides, and the Project Management series is one set of them.

Per GOAL/QPC, the original Project Management Memory Jogger (second edition) is a great source for projects at the individual or team level. In contrast, the Advanced Project Management Memory Jogger assists the project managers at the organizational or strategic level.

This book expands the experienced project manager's knowledge of the core concepts in project management, such as scheduling, risk, team building, communication and negotiation skills, project control, and much more.

Feature Article

Estimating Is an Incredible “Mind Game” (Part 1)
by Adele Sommers

When I give presentations on the topic of estimating, I enjoy engaging the audience in a fun, eye-opening exercise in which I ask the participants to gauge how much time they think it will take to complete three simple tasks.

Clipboard with task listThe answers invariably range from barely a few minutes to several hours each — and sometimes, even days or weeks! The audience members are always amazed at their range of guesstimates for three seemingly “no-brainer” activities.

A wide spectrum of results emerges regardless of the participants’ backgrounds. I’ve noticed that the estimates by credentialed project managers with plenty of experience often diverge as much as — or even more than — those of people with no formal estimating experience at all!

So, when faced with a new set of tasks to estimate, why should our predictions vary so wildly?

One explanation is that estimating seems to involve four fascinating factors:

  1. Formulaic aspects
  2. Psychological aspects
  3. Social influences
  4. Organizational politics

Let’s look at these factors one by one. (This article, Part 1 of a two-part series, covers the first two of these factors, below.)

Formulaic Aspects

Formulaic aspects include the range of methods and arithmetic calculations we can use to derive our estimates. We can think of these as the more mechanical aspects of estimating.

What does a “range of methods” refer to? Well, especially when an endeavor will be all new to us, we can use multiple estimating techniques to help us predict the effort more precisely. Those techniques include, but are not limited to, using records of past experience, top-down projections, and bottom-up task analyses.

Calendar, clock, and pencilFrom a past experience point of view, when we have performed a task repeatedly — and have recorded the actual time it takes for future reference — we can have greater confidence that our estimates for similar tasks will be accurate. This assumes that the future tasks will have similar requirements and will also occur under comparable conditions. It also assumes that we will be referring back to our historical database to consult our previously recorded timekeeping data.

Arrow pointing downFrom a top-down point of view, we could draw general conclusions about an entire project by using a previous project for comparison. To account for any expected differences in the scope or the difficulty, we could simply adjust the complexity level up or down. For example, future Project B might appear to be about 200% more complex than prior Project A because there will be twice as many deliverables. This kind of estimate can give us a ballpark idea of the effort.

Arrow pointing upFrom a bottom-up point of view, we could perform a detailed task analysis, and then add up the hours of all of the tasks to be performed. If we’re not intimately familiar with the tasks, we can interview the people who are. Even in the absence of experienced performers to interview, we could methodically think through, and make a reasonable attempt to guesstimate, the time that each task and step would require. This approach often exposes nuances that would not be apparent from a higher-level vantage point, and can produce more realistic and precise estimates.

If we create a set of estimates using two or three of the above techniques, we can then look for the average or midpoint among them. This kind of “triangulation” strengthens our final predictions because we’ve approached the problem from more than one point of view.

But if this were all there were to it, we could simply treat estimating like a mechanical exercise and be done with it! However, the formulaic aspects are not all that come into play...

Psychological Aspects

One psychological phenomenon I believe we encounter when attempting to estimate our time is visualizing the world through a pair of rose-colored glasses. For example, we have a tendency to imagine performing unfamiliar tasks in the smoothest possible way, without snags or interruptions, under perfectly pristine conditions!

To illustrate, when I personally strive to imagine all of the stages, tasks, and steps of something I will be creating or performing, it’s no wonder that I hardly ever estimate 100% correctly, particularly if it’s something new. I’ve observed in myself (as well as in others) a habit of envisioning an idealistic, “ivory tower” workflow, where I can consistently function:

  • Man meditating on a conference tableCompletely “in the zone” or “in the flow,” and where I can concentrate so deeply that I totally lose track of time
  • With perfect fluency, such as when I do familiar physical activities for which I no longer need to consciously think about how to perform each step
  • Without any of the usual interruptions, delays, or distractions that can impede my efficiency

Speaking of impediments, below are just a few of the many things we can all stumble over or neglect to take into account, even when a new undertaking is a relatively good fit for our expertise:

  • Initial training and learning curves
  • Typical telephone, text, and e-mail intrusions
  • Confusion about the work that will require clarification
  • Emotional preoccupation with related or unrelated matters
  • Fatigue, illness, hunger, pain, restlessness, and other biological distractions
  • The time it takes to mentally “shift gears” from one set of activities to another
  • The need to overcome writer’s block or perform other “getting ready” exercises
  • Discovering that aspects of the work are more complex than they initially seemed
  • Time constraints and scheduling demands that split our time inefficiently, and thus require us to repeatedly stop work and later rethink where we left off

Overwhelmed business woman holding an armful of filesAnd when facing a new challenge that is well outside of our expertise, our “sunny-side-up” view of the world may cause us to wonder, “How hard could this be?”

Without a reality check, we could delude ourselves into a blindly optimistic, overly confident, “of course I can do this!” bravado that either overshoots our capabilities or, at minimum, fails to account for inevitable distractions. Our estimates could then be thrown off in minor to major ways.

The bottom line is that although we might sometimes overestimate the amount of time a new activity will take, I’ve observed over many years that on the whole, based on all of the above tendencies, we tend to vastly underestimate our time more often than not — by a factor of 2 or 3!

In conclusion, we’ve just examined two of the four fascinating factors that can produce divergent experiences when we estimate anything from individual tasks to entire projects: the formulaic and psychological aspects. Stay tuned for Part 2 to continue the exploration!

Copyright 2024 Adele Sommers

The Author Recommends

The “Project Success Kit”

"Quick-Start Guide to Project Risk Management" by Adele SommersAre you looking for a compendium of ways to boost your team’s “risk management IQ”? Now you can gain “20:20 foresight” and stop unnecessary project failures due to expensive and avoidable risks.

My Project Success Kit contains a comprehensive collection of instantly downloadable “how-to” techniques that will walk you through a simple process of identifying, evaluating, and mitigating the most problematic project pitfalls using special tools, checklists, interactive worksheets, and best practices.

The kit includes a total of 126 pages of content and 2 hours of MP3 audio files. The audio segments are accompanied by complete transcripts and note-taking guides that cover each aspect of the risk management process and related topics.

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” — an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today’s issue, you’ll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It’s accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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