The planning error: what is it and how does it affect us?

People should set short, medium and long term goals. These can be achieved when we have a good organization of our activities.

On the other hand, not managing our time properly ends up hurting our ability to complete our personal projects in the time we want. The planning fallacy is a peculiar phenomenon which turns out to be an influential variable when drawing up an estimate to achieve our projects. In this article, we will explain what the planning fallacy is, how to recognize it and control it.

    What is the planning error?

    The planning fallacy is a phenomenon that has been studied by various disciplines such as economics, statistics, psychology, etc. This difficulty was coined by economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979to describe people who tend in organizations to overestimate the duration of a task, even considering that similar tasks in the past have taken longer.

    The planning fallacy turns out to be a particular phenomenon or bias, which tends to influence when we estimate the development of our projects. The biggest difficulty when planning a project arises when estimating the cost and the time it may take to complete it.

    The difficulty begins during the initial estimation process, with the appearance of a bias that ends up influencing our perception of reality. In other words, this bias is linked to the high optimism of estimation that we grant to the duration of an activity (we think we will do it quickly) task or project that we must carry out. Therefore, by having expectations that are not in line with reality, people do not complete the activity within a certain time frame.

    On the other hand, the planning fallacy has to do with the phenomenon in which the plans end up not coinciding with the facts, in particular this difficulty arises in terms of time. It is important to note that the planning fallacy occurs in the personal and professional environment. This inconsistency between what we want to do (plans) and its development has consequences in terms of time, efficiency and productivity, because the person who does not estimate in real time will have deficiencies on these variables. Finally, the individual ends up being emotionally affected by exhibiting the difficulties generated by the planning fallacy.

      Origin of the term

      At the beginning of the industrial age, people began to talk about the planning fallacy, although this name was not used specifically. There was a time when industrial production gained additional importance to which was added production time. That is why the main objective of all industries was to produce the maximum of products in a shorter time. Since then, both at the individual and organizational level, planning has become a relevant activity. Thus, in 1979, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman supported the existence of the phenomenon called “planning fallacy”. These authors understood that this difficulty was very common among people and that behind it was hidden a cognitive bias, a self-deception linked to the limits of our perception of reality.

        What are the characteristics of the planning fallacy?

        Over time, a detail has been uncovered about the characterization of the phenomenon known as the planning fallacy. We now know that it is an illusory perception of time that promotes error in the planning of tasks, plans or projects. We can also understand it as a cognitive bias or self-deception that leads us to an error in estimating the time of an activity. Next, we will review the main characteristics of the planning error.

        1. Tendency to think in a very optimistic scenario about the course of work

        Over time, it has been detected that at the time of planning, a person tends to present a very optimistic view of the scenario in which the activities, plan, project, etc. will be developed. In other words, the individual conceives the idea and plans or projects it from the conception that everything will happen normally, without setbacks, contingencies or unfavorable eventualities. It certainly does not end up adapting to reality many times, because as we know it is not unusual that during a planning an unforeseen event can occur.

          2. Illusory thinking prevails

          Illusory thinking has to do with the approach that gives greater influence to one’s own desire above objective reality. In other words, the person will end up thinking about the desire they have, subtracting more value from the real circumstances of the environment or what it would really cost to develop the activity, task or project. what she has in mind. We could also understand that the person is carried away by emotions and by “pious wishes”, by the strong desire to be able to carry out the activityforgetting about the possible negative possibilities that may arise along the way.

          3. Self-performance is overrated

          When you start planning the project or the task you want to accomplish, there is an inadequate interpretation of your performance, because will value their skills and/or aptitudes positively or very favorably, thinking that they will be able to take on the task very perfectly, very smoothly and of course, in a very short time. This difficulty in overestimating one’s own performance becomes a central factor in the planning fallacy and ends up hurting when the individual comes up against reality.

            Consequences of the planning error

            The main negative consequence of the planning error is inadequate time management and estimation. The above results in inadequate management of resources, in the same way, it involves a poor evaluation of the person’s own performance, as well as their expectations far from reality.

            1. Non-compliance with established deadlines

            By making erroneous estimates, people are more likely to miss and complete the task at the scheduled time. This is why they end up breaking their word or end up projecting the image of a lying or irresponsible person. Failure to meet these deadlines often leads to conflict with others and with oneself.

            2. Emotional and psychological difficulties

            Note that the most serious would be the cost of negative emotional consequences.

            In short, the planning fallacy leads to a very high feeling of frustration that often harms the health of the person who suffers from it. Failure to meet the estimates that a person has projected causes discomfort and physical and psychological stress.

            How to avoid the fallacy of planning?

            The way to avoid the phenomenon of planning error is to take into account past or previous experiences, in order to rethink this overestimation of time, of our skills and abilities, adjusting them more to the reality of the context. This way we can make a more real estimate of the time we would need to perform an activity and also take into account contingencies. This way we can avoid falling into this cognitive bias and also avoid falling into frustration and stress that cause discomfort in our body.

            When making a quote It is important to consider all possible scenarios, not just the best ones. It is important to consider objectivity apart from our emotions or our good wishes to start the activity. In the same way, it may be necessary to take as a reference the experiences of people who have already been able to carry out this same activity or project, consulting them for the time it took them to complete the same task.

            Bibliographic references

            • Buehler, R., Griffin, D., & Ross, M. (2002). Inside the planning error: the causes and consequences of optimistic time forecasts. In T. Gilovich, D. Griffin, and D. Kahneman (Eds.), Heuristics and Bias: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, 250-270. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
            • Lev Virin and Michael Trumper. Project Decisions: The Art and Science, Vienna, VA: Management Concepts, 2008. ISBN 978-1-56726-217-9
            • Kahneman, D., Sibony, O. & Sunstein, C. (2021). Noise. A flaw in human judgment. New York: Little brown spark.

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