I recently came across the following quotation by the American aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright in a speech to the Aero Club of France in 1908:

I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. Two years later we ourselves made flights. This demonstration of my impotence as a prophet gave me such a shock that ever since I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions (their first successful flight was in 1903).

Our ability to predict future outcomes is limited at best. As Robert Burns wrote in his ‘Ode to a Mouse’: The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. Or more accurately (but unintelligibly):

In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,

For the full poem see:

But most of our project stakeholders expect predictability, we predict budgets time frames and delivery dates and they expect us to deliver. The challenge for us all is to effectively manage these expectations – unrealistic expectations are unlikely to be fulfilled.

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future*. Setting fixed budgets and delivery dates without adequate contingencies is a recipe for failure. We have developed a couple of white papers on cost and duration estimating that may help develop realistic and achievable targets for your projects:

* Niels Bohr, Danish physicist (1885 – 1962)


2 Responses to Predictability….

  1. Some would interpret your comments on the difficulty of Predictability as cause to avoid any predictions. Some go so far as to avoid any planning or modeling since nothing will be as predicted.
    However, another point of view accepts as fact that nothing will be as predicted but that there is significant value in the attempt. In the attempt to predict, we examine processes, root causes, resources, etc and how we believe they will interact. We learn from this examination and we can learn from investigating the differences between our predictions and reality.

    • stakeholdermanagement says:

      Another quotation I like is by Sir John Harvey-Jones, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ICI, UK: Planning is an unnatural process. It is much more fun to do something. And the nice thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.

      The focus of the links is on understanding the need to ‘expect’ future predictions of cost, time or other factors that may occur in the future to be wrong. You can then focus on the key question ‘how wrong’ and as variances become manifest start taking actions to bring the work back onto the plan. Assuming the plan is perfectly correct removes the needs for checks and updates (because the estimates are corect) and can lead to total disaster.

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