All posts by Donn

My name is Donn, and you’ll find me working at the intersection of business and information technology, constantly looking for ways to apply IT to business and life to make things better. I’m a big fan of data analysis and its subsequent communication. It always gives me a thrill extracting meaning out of data through analysis, and figuring out the best way to present the findings for maximum impact!

On Planning and Project Management

“So how long,” he asks, “do you think you’ll take to complete the project?”

“Two weeks,” I say.

Three weeks later, I’m still two weeks away from completion. What happened?

It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. It’s happened many times before.

Rolf Dobelli says it beautifully in his excellent book The Art of Thinking Clearly:

[W]hy are we not natural-born planners? The first reason: wishful thinking. We want to be successful and achieve everything we take on. Second, we focus too much on the project and overlook outside influences. Unexpected events too often scupper our plans.

The second point is particularly pertinent in my line of work. I have a pretty decent idea of how long a project will take, if all goes well and if I could dedicate 100% of my time to the project.

What I tend to forget is that life often gets in the way. There are plenty of interruptions. Other “important”, “even more urgent” projects pop-up; ad hoc requests that are quick to resolve but that just as quickly add up to significant amounts of time; regular routine work that’s not quite factored in, because they are normally quickly executed, but every once in a while require a long, dragged-out bout of firefighting.

Dobelli has a solution for better planning. He suggests

[shifting] your focus from internal things, such as your own project, to external factors, like similar projects. Look at the base rate and consult the past. If other ventures of the same type lasted three years and devoured $5 million, they will probably apply to your project, too — no matter how carefully you plan.

Which is a great case for keeping a log of project and their time to completion (do NOT trust undocumented recollections of project lengths; like childbirth, our brains tend to underestimate the amount of time and pain we go through).

Also, one more thing I would is that you resist the temptation to think that “this time is different”, and that no matter how confident you are, this time is probably not.

Trust the data.

Image of a die with "maybe" and "yes"

The Default Option

Saw the following via Avinash Kaushik on Google+. Too good not to share, and on so many levels.

If internet explorer is brave enough to ask you to be your default browser, you're brave enough to ask that girl out.

It is worth highlighting that the power of the “default option” is a very real one.

Organ donation is a good example. Whether organ donation is an “opt-in” (i.e. the default option is not donating), far fewer people tend to go for it, as compared to when it’s an “opt-out” (i.e. the default option is donating).

I’m a big believer in this effect, and use it often when scheduling meetings, among other things.

For example, when scheduling meetings, I like to give options, but always ensure that one of them is the “default” or “preferred” option, even though there’s no reason for it to be (“We can meet either Thursday 2pm or 5pm, though I would prefer 2pm. “)

It helps expedite things: if the recipient can’t make it at 2pm or 5pm, it’s an easy choice, the recipient just chooses the alternative. If the recipient can make it for both, the recipient just chooses the default (2pm).

Without the default option, if the recipient can make it for both, it’s likely the recipient would wait till the last possible moment before responding, keeping options open in case another meeting crops up.

Great things don’t just happen

Like a blog post.

I’ve been thinking all month that “I ought to update my blog”, but “inspiration” didn’t hit and so I just let it slide.

Day after day, thinking about it; not doing anything.

And then I thought, “what if I don’t wait for inspiration? What if I just got out there and wrote?”

Well, I did. And I did.

Feeling Sorry for Yourself in this Complicated World

I was feeling sick. I mean really sick. Walking five steps would leave me gasping for air. My throat felt like murder (:bad). My head throbbed like a discotheque.

But I had work to do. Work I didn’t feel like doing, but which my professional self wouldn’t let me off not doing.

Let me share with you a little bit of my work ethos using one of my favourite quotes from Will Smith:

I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories.

But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.

So I got to work. While working away through my illness though (whatever it was; or actually still is, because I’m still feeling its effects two weeks after), I couldn’t help but think if it was all worth it. This wasn’t change the world stuff; and I wasn’t being compensated enough to make up for that fact.

In fact, I started feeling quite sorry for myself. So sorry that I started googling for help: quotes on self-pity

And came across this little gem from D H Lawrence:

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

Which reminded me of the Will Smith quote and helped me carry on till most of the stuff I needed to do were done.

On my walk to school yesterday though (I’m back to school for a Masters in Tech, by the way), I passed by a bird. That bird was chasing down a worm, pecking at it. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the worm, though I knew very well it was just the natural order of things.

And I realised that the reason why wild things never felt sorry for themselves could well be the reason why we do: because we are not wild; because we feel pity not just for ourselves, but for our fellow living beings.

How complicated our world is!

To Judge a Life, Just Look at the Last Half

A beautiful quote from a beautiful book, Vegetable Roots Discourse, #92:

If a singing girl is virtuous later on in accord with her circumstances, her earlier life of rouge and flowers will not matter. The faithful wife with white hair who lets down her guard nullifies half a life of chaste endeavor. The proverb reads, “To judge a life, look just at the last half.”

A true saying indeed.

A reminder to all of us that even after what might be deemed as failure, not all is lost.

On another note, the second half of the first paragraph, about the faithful wife, reminds me about antifragility, and how it would be prudent to build antifrgile systems around what matters most to us.