The Fallible Future (and How to Fix It)

PMI United Kingdom Chapter

Ian Whittingham, PMP is a Program Manager in the Business Transformation group of a leading global news and information company. The views expressed here are his own. You may contact the author directly at ian.whittingham@thomsonreuters.com.

How far away is the future? It’s the kind of philosophical question a curious child might ask as they ponder their growing sense of the elasticity of time, of how today turns into yesterday and how tomorrow becomes today, of how the present moment they inhabit springs from the moment immediately preceding it and is continuously replaced by the moment bearing down on them.

It’s also the kind of question a less philosophically minded project manager might ask as they try to estimate the point at which their project will achieve its goal. That we so often arrive at the wrong answer to that question says less about our competency in predicting the future than it does about the reasons as to why it is so difficult for us to get it right.

Planning fallacy
It’s no accident that the English word we use to describe the work we do--a project--carries this sense of a casting forth, of extending forward in time, out into the future. What we do as project managers might more accurately be described as projecting--projecting ourselves into that future moment when our project will be complete. But in doing so, we also work our way back in time, back from that future point, back to today, to the present moment our project inhabits, and then map out how we move forward to meet that future moment.

The plan we create to fix a project’s course--the timeline…

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