Reality… bites

Fairy tales are tempting. Especially so when it comes to big complex missions that have a lot of money, time and risk associated. Decisions need to be made at the point where we don’t know a whole lot, but that’s uncomfortable. And there’s lots of knock on effects and dependencies on reaching the goal – which of course we want to be able to plan around.

And so, everyone wants to know when some complex endeavour will be “done”. Organisations tend to invest a lot of time and money on trying to figure that out. We come up with a list of “requirements” and attempt to estimate how long it’s going to take. And then it all gets locked in as a plan, so that things needed down the road can go ahead and do their part. There’s a lot riding on it, not least of which is the credibility of senior managers.

When will X be done is an easy question to ask. But it can often be fiendishly difficult or even impossible to answer with precision. Instead, we fill that vacuum with what in many cases are simply a huge guess, failing to account for the known unknowns, let alone the unknown unknowns. And for the bigger and more complex endeavours, the really “big batch” missions, it’s not long before that guess starts to go sideways. This is the planning fallacy.

Adjusting for reality

Unfortunately, there is a huge temptation to bury our heads in the sand when it doesn’t go the way we want. But in the end, reality of course catches up. You can avoid reality, but you can’t avoid the consequences of avoiding reality. Reality always wins.