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On Human Nature II

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Along with the inverse negative relationship between expertise and perceived expertise, people have a strong tendency to underestimate how long it will take to complete most tasks. As expertise in a field grows, the ability predict how long a task takes gets better, but only marginally. Many engineering firms (software, civil, aerospace, etc.) will take their top engineers estimates for the length of time to complete a project and then add 30% to 60% depending on the skill of the individuals or groups working on the task. Another method employed by firms to refine predictions is called "unpacking". By taking the task, breaking it into individual components, and then estimating the length of time to complete each component, we often see a change of 30% to 60% over the original estimated time frame. So if you think a project will take you 3 hours, give yourself 5; if you think a project will take a week, give yourself 11 days. Always overestimate how long a task will take, not including breaks.
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    Alundil's Avatar
    We do a very similar thing in our surgery scheduling practices. We, of course, trend all surgical procedure times by procedure, surgeon(s) both for scheduled versus actual and that rolling average is used and the baseline for all new surgery schedule requests by same surgeon/procedure. That said, there are still many instances when the requested time will be quite different (+/-) from the statistical history. It's interesting.