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Cause of incorrect time estimation and 6 effective ways to solve this problem

Study guide

Mistakenly estimating the amount of time you spend doing something personal (such as painting your room) is just a mistake that has no particular consequences, you may just get a little more tired; But misjudging a work project can have more serious consequences, such as increasing your working hours and those of your team, increasing costs, and reducing customer satisfaction. To avoid these consequences, you must abandon optimistic estimates and become more realistic; But how? In this article, we will introduce you to 6 ways to better estimate.

What does the fallacy of wrong estimation mean?

False estimation fallacy is a term that psychologists use to define our tendency to misjudge the time it takes to complete and manage projects. The term was first used by 1997 psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1997.

The two psychologists have shown in their research that people tend to ignore pre-existing data when making predictions. According to their theory, instead of basing our prediction on data from similar previous projects, we prefer to estimate solely on the characteristics of our new project or intuition.

Kahneman later developed his theory in his 2011 book, Thinking Fast and Slow. He cites two main reasons for miscalculation:

  1. Ignoring the time spent on previous projects to estimate the new project;
  2. Optimism about possible problems that will delay the project.

However, this does not mean that these mistakes cannot be prevented. If you can find the reasons and roots of wrong estimates, you can avoid them and make more accurate estimates.

The book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” has been translated in Iran by Forough Talosamdi and published by Danesh Bahman Publications.

How to overcome wrong estimates?

To overcome the problems caused by miscalculation, whether at work or in life, one must give up pure conjecture. Techniques have been developed that can be used to largely prevent erroneous estimates. These are exercises that we will make more accurate estimates by mastering them. In the following, we will introduce 6 examples of them.

1. Use previous data

Use of previous data in erroneous estimation

In their article, Kahneman and Torsky recommend that instead of asking about the features of the project ahead, first ask about the experiences of previous projects; For example, if you want to add a new section to your software, go to previous projects and see how long they took. If you are going to write a 4,000 word note, look at your blog records and find out how long you have been writing such articles in the past.

Of course, to do this, you need to have data from previous projects. If you work alone, you have a variety of management software that can record your project records as well as your daily life. If you are a team and company, you can use proprietary software developed for project management and time management.

2. Leave the estimation to someone else

In 1994, the American Psychological Association published the results of five studies on the subject in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. This research not only confirmed the theory of Kahneman and Torsky that people tend to misjudge, but also showed a new point. That we are much better at estimating other people’s projects than our own!

When participants were asked to estimate other people’s projects, they went much further to the previous data to find a basis for estimating time. Even when such data did not exist or the estimators did not receive all the data from the contractors of those projects, their estimates were still better than those of the individuals themselves.

The reason for this difference is that we have a more pragmatic approach to the skills and abilities of others. This leads to more realism in estimating the timing of projects that others are implementing.

So instead of just estimating yourself, leave it to a friend or colleague, or at least ask for their opinion.

3. To estimate, define the interval and set times for the delay

Use multiple estimates to reduce erroneous estimates

There are always factors to consider when estimating project time. These factors include the following:

  • Things you know are happening;
  • Things that may happen;
  • Things you don’t even think about, but they can happen.

To address all of these ambiguities, project managers sometimes use the Cone of Uncertainty cone. This cone is used to determine the project time interval based on when you make the estimate; For example, when you estimate at the beginning (with little data), your estimate of project time may be between one-fourth and four times the initial estimate; So if you have 2 days for a project, the uncertainty cone sets the time interval between half a day and 8 days. As you start work, your data on workload increases and this interval becomes shorter. However, you will not be able to say for sure when the work will be completed.

The uncertainty cone gives you more options for estimating project completion time. This tool allows you to define an interval for your estimation; For example, if you have a small amount of data, by dividing your estimate by 4 and multiplying by 4, you get the minimum and maximum project time intervals, respectively. If presenting the time period is not to your or your employers’ request and they ask you for a specific time, you can choose the maximum time required in the cone as an estimate.

4. Use the 3-state estimation method

This method, with the help of 3 types of estimates, makes you face your optimism and question it:

  1. Optimistic estimation;
  2. Pessimistic estimates;
  3. Realistic estimation.

Optimistically, most of us, when estimating, items 2 and 3 in this method, force us to imagine the worst situation and take it into account in our calculations. Pessimistic estimation includes the situation in which the worst situations occur when working on a project. The third case is also calculated based on previous data. Once you have obtained all three, you will reach the final estimate by calculating the average of these three numbers.

5. Calculate your estimation error ratio

One way you can find out your estimation error is to use a method called Fudge Ratio. This method was suggested by Steve Pavlina. He is the author of Personal Development for Smart People.

This book has been published in Peykan Publications in Iran with the title “Seven Steps to Heaven: A Conscious Effort for Personal Growth”, translated by Ashraf Razi.

First, guess how long it takes to do a few things and write them down. Once done, calculate and record the actual time spent. Now, put together all the estimates and all the real time spent. Then divide the sum of all real times by the sum of all estimated times. The result is a number that indicates the amount of error in your estimate. Since this number is the product of a ratio, it is better to convert it to a percentage. Now you can multiply this percentage by your future estimates in future estimates to improve their accuracy.

6. When you are not healthy, estimate!

Estimate when you are not healthy

There are times during the day when we are not very energetic. You may be surprised, but these are better times to estimate. Daniel Pink, author of Kay: The Scientific Tricks of Excellent Timing, takes an in-depth look at all the research that has been done in this area. He has shown that there is a biological clock in our body that affects our mood throughout the day. These influences are not limited to temperament and also affect our performance, creativity and attitudes such as optimism.

He cites a study by two researchers, Scott Golder and Michael Massey. The two, after reviewing millions of tweets, concluded that most people feel bored in the hours after lunch. This means that in these hours, the negative attitudes of their valley are more. This attitude is what you need for a more realistic estimate.

So try to estimate the hours when you do not feel very refreshed. Taking advantage of negative emotions reduces deceptive optimism and makes your estimates more accurate.

Have you ever made a mistake in scheduling and planning for a personal or professional job? What have you learned from your mistake? What methods do you have for estimating the time to get things done and projects? Introduce us to the best and most practical ones.




Cause of incorrect time estimation and 6 effective ways to solve this problem

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