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July 25th, 2019
Hofstadter’s Law states: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.
This law is comically and infuriatingly recursive. We project how long a project will take, one we’ve never undertaken, and invariably we grossly underestimate how long it will take. Construction projects present a fabulous example of this. With so much work contracted out, and the whole process becoming decentralized, getting a handle on how long each part will take becomes more and more difficult.
Add to this the strange way that time dilates from a subjective point of view. Some minutes can drag on forever, while a fun day seems to evaporate before we can really sink our teeth into it.
In addition to this, work also seems to expand to fill the time allotted for it.
All three of these phenomena combined, it seems impossible that we can ever get a clear idea of what we can and will get done.
We have two options. When it comes to deadline agreements with other people, we can inflate the time with the hope that we will deliver before, or we can give a tighter deadline and risk missing it.
Giving a later deadline might seem wise, but as mentioned, work has a strange inflational quality and will probably fill this buffer time.
It stands sensible to reason that the opposite is also true. If work can expand, then perhaps it can be compressed. The risk is that lower quality work will result from being rushed..
So which to go for?
Is there anyway to have our cake and eat it too? Can we compress work so that we have time left over?
The question remains open and probably depends on the project and the situation. For those things that we have enough experience doing, we might be more accurate with our realistic timeline. But for the unknown, chances are we’ll ned to work fast and with a generous deadline.