How do you plan for the Human Element?


It seems that people are always running late, racing for a deadline, or stressed out over budgets. When resources like time are initially abundant, why do we consistently find ourselves in the stressful situation of running out of them? Because when we are planning, we have a tendency to grossly underestimate how much resources the plan will cost. It’s called the Planning Fallacy and we are the worst at it when considering the Human Element.

The Planning Fallacy (among the many behavioral patterns that get in the way of our rational decision making) makes us miss deadlines, show up late and under prepared - and that leads to stress. It’s as if we forget that humans have children, immune systems, goals, aspirations, distractions, and accidents.

If you are leading a project that doesn’t yet account for that element, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How will that affect your leadership?

  • What do you do when you CAN'T get it done and also take care of your human element?

  • What happens when your people have to work through the night or weekend, otherwise risk failure?

  • Do you cancel the project?

  • Do you tell the client no?

  • Do you make your team work throughout the weekend? Every weekend?

  • Will they have to sacrifice their own selves, families, and community for your business?

  • How will this affect your team or your client’s trust?

Beating the Planning Fallacy builds confidence and trust in you. People will believe you when you submit a plan if you’ve been successful in the past and everyone was happy.


People get sick. Accidents happen. Children exist. There are so many reasons why a person might have challenges on a project - don’t try to work with a team that is just large enough, always pad your number of teammates. Even if nothing goes wrong, that’s a lot of pressure on each team member and an additional player can relieve the burden and add to the collective power of the group.

Not every project will have a major human setback - but it will have minor ones, and being prepared for the big ones can save your team, and their faith in you. A good rule of thumb is take whatever your estimation is and double it. Some people even say to double it again! How long will it take you to get there? If it’s 30 minutes, plan 1 hour. How much will it cost? If it’s $50, then budget $100. How many humans will it take to complete, in how long? Double both factors. You may be surprised at how often double your estimate was “barely enough”.

Double sound too far? Even small buffers can make a big difference to how much stress the Planning Fallacy can generate for you. Set you deadlines days or weeks earlier, plan for extra travel time when going to a new place (or even a familiar one), pad your budgets by rounding up costs or reducing the workload you’re committing to.

But what happens if your original estimates were spot on? Chill out. Meditate with the extra travel time. Review your work and document the process when the project is done. Revel in the extra minutes you have to take a few deep breaths before the meeting. Buy your team ice cream cones with the extra budget. Sweet win.

Things rarely go according to plan. S*** happens. But if you make room in your plans for can make all the difference between potential disaster and an Awesome outcome.