Earlier this week, I was browsing Twitter (yes, I’m still using it!) when I came across a 20-year-old research article on planning. The brilliantly titled paper, If You Don’t Want to Be Late, Enumerate, highlights just how far we underestimate how long tasks take. It also shows that unpacking the task into sub-tasks, and planning on that basis, can help us be more realistic about the time required.

Without the unpacking, participants in the study estimated the time taken that would be needed to complete the task to be around 50% of the actual time. With the unpacking, estimates improved to 75% of the actual time, or better.

In other words, without effective planning, we believe we can get twice as much done than is possible and, even with planning, we can still be wildly over-optimistic.

The reason that there are so many projects not getting done in your organisation is a result of this planning fallacy. Projects are set top-down, without any detailed planning, and even where the necessary planning is subsequently carried out many managers dismiss what it tells them and carry on regardless.

Over the past 16 years as a consultant to many different types and sizes of businesses, I have intuitively believed that most organisations could be more effective by culling half or more of their projects. This study gives some academic grist to that mill.

So, a task for this weekend: review the list of projects that your team is currently working on and strike out the half with the weakest outcomes. If you do, you will have a much better chance of delivering real change and improving your team’s performance.

But watch out: it could take twice as long to complete as you originally thought!

Off The Record: You Can’t Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes, well, you might just find

You get what you need