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Monday, June 7, 2010

In a Jiffy

Today's labors got me to asking myself why is it that we so often underestimate the time it will take to complete a job.  A major reason is the fact that we greatly underestimate the individual steps required and the time each step will take.  This is an experience common to most everyone.  So, with this knowledge, why do we continue to underestimate?  I think it is because we believe in spin--"to cast somebody's remarks or relate a story in such a way as to influence public opinion in a desired way" (Encarta Dictionary).  We not only seek to influence other's opinions, but our own as well.  We give over-optimistic completion dates to persuade ourselves and others to commit to the task.  Once commitment to the task is attained, we have acceded to something much more burdensome than a date-certain, we have introduced the factors of trust, responsibility, and integrity.  It becomes clear as the job proceeds that timeliness is virtually always trumped by other factors, such as workability, safety, and facing emerging reality--rather than reaching an unrealistic, makeshift, even phony completion.  Is the answer never to give a completion date or commit to a certain price?  Of course, in the real world of work, both of these are simply required.  Nevertheless, we should always be aware that we are creating something of a fiction. (Unlike a product on the shelf in a store with a price based to a degree on past activities.)  I had a contractor redo my bathroom.  We reached a contract for a certain price and completion date.  Then emerging reality set in.  The contractor presented me with a choice, continue as agreed but end up with a product that would cause more trouble later (like not replacing my old zinc plumbing, not installing an exhaust fan, etc.) or negotiate further to include these items.  Perhaps his original price included a measure of spin.  It brought commitment.  But after commitment--after the wedding, so to speak--we had to deal with an emerging reality.  What I found myself committed to was getting the job done right, even if it cost more and took more time.  It would have been foolish to "be a man and demand my rights" under the original agreement.  Now, the bathroom is the best room in our house.

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