Planning fallacy: Continue cleaning the house no matter what happens

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

“I BEG your pardon,” said the man returning to his seat in the theater, “but did I step on your toes when I left to buy popcorn?” The annoyed movie patron answered: “You certainly did!”

The man turned to his companion. “Honey, come on down,” he said. “We’re in the right row!”

This approach is bad enough on how some people treat others without minding the repercussion of their actions. They’re like auctioneers and lawyers who will never lie, unless of course it is absolutely necessary.

Take the case of planning. How can you tell whether a plan has the best probability of success? Many people have their own way of finding out. The most basic of them all is through the PDCA (plan-do-check, and act) approach. Indeed, it is a systematic manner to debug issues. Sometimes, they bring the idea to both interested and disinterested people. They ask people to challenge the plan, unless it is a trade secret.

If there are many good ideas from people within the organization, the greater the chance that management will take the idea forward to the next level, even outside of the family circle. At one time, my spouse Bonnie told me of one interesting story in the course of doing her job as a volunteer barangay (village) day care teacher.

She had just read a brief story to preschoolers of how God created man. Bonnie asked the class if they had any questions. One of the little boys raised his hand and said: “My daddy says we come from monkeys.” With a hint of extreme diplomacy, Bonnie replied: “Bobby, let’s talk about your family problems after class.”

Actually, I’m making up that story to exaggerate where the conflict lies between religion and science, which are two different things. And yet, undeniably many of us are firm believers of both religion and science. Now, what has it got to do with planning?

It is as simple as saying that bad planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an automatic emergency on my part. But look, who am I to reject a plea from friends, no matter how dubious they appear to some extent?

Just the same, everyone needs to plan even in the midst of a “planning fallacy” or the tendency for some people to underestimate the time, money, and effort needed to complete a task, even when they have already experienced failure many times before.

The buzzword “planning fallacy” was introduced in 1979 by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky to predict the success or failure of a project. It has been tested many times over even in the filing of tax forms, academic work, product assembly, computer programming and many more.

According to Kahneman and Tversky, “planning fallacy” occurs where a project exceeds its budget, loses an anticipated benefit, or misses the deadline, among others. Now how would you avoid “planning fallacy” from happening? Is there an important problem that planners can’t address, because existing solutions are expensive or inconvenient?

Being an incurable optimist, there are magical opportunities that we can get out of a cleverly disguised problem. For instance, is there another way to solve the problem in a simpler, more convenient, or more affordable way?

The best way to do it is closely monitor the performance of each step by the assigned actor or point person. Let the plan guide the way, but let individual actions prevail. If the actors are not moving to the agreed direction, intervene right away and find out what’s happening. You’ve to figure out what’s wrong.

The only way to know if you have a good plan is when everyone cooperates. If not, there’s a major problem out there, even if they don’t want to admit it. Your goal is to learn as much from both of your supporters and as much as the opposition. See how well your past successes and failures can do to understand the plan at the end of the day.

Continue to clean the house. It’s like when you have children. Cleaning the house is like shovelling snow while it’s still snowing. Now, are you seeing anything missing from the list? If there’s none, then don’t compare. That’s why comparisons are unhealthy when we compare our personal insides with their outsides.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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