The Quiet-Eye Period

May 1, 2011
125 Views

In Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average, Joseph T. Hallinan writes about the quiet-eye period. He writes

In Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average, Joseph T. Hallinan writes about the quiet-eye period. He writes

the amount of time needed to accurately program motor responses. It occurs between the last glimpse of our target and the first twitch of our nervous system. Researchers have documented expert-novice differences in quiet-eye periods in a number of sports, ranging from shooting free throws in basketball to shooting rifles in Olympic-style competition. The consistent finding is that experts maintain a longer quiet-eye period. (emphasis added)

Fascinating stuff.

I thought about this quote in the context of a recent consulting engagement on which I was bidding. Call the potential client Company X here. To make a long story short, Company X is a very large organization with more than 10,000 active employees that needs to upgrade its time and attendance system by the end of the this year. On a conference call discussing the project, we eventually got to arguably the key question: How long is this going to take?

It’s the point at which many consulting firms throw out a low number because it’s safer–and the firm is more likely to get the deal. Less scrupulous firms do this and then hit up their clients for change requests after the project has begun in earnest. Before long, chairs are being tossed in conference rooms.

More scrupulous consultants (and I firmly put myself in this category) maintain longer quiet eye periods. We know that the answer to “How long?” hinges to a great extent on client data and related subquestions:

  • How much information needs to be converted or migrated?
  • How much information needs to be cleaned?
  • How accurate is the information?
  • How comprehensive is the information?
  • In how many different places is that information?

Only after these questions can be answered can good consultants realistically estimate the amount of time, effort, and money involved in an information management (IM) project.

To its credit, Company X didn’t balk when I said that, after a one hour call, I couldn’t possibly estimate the project’s length and, by extension, cost–at least in an accurate manner. I would know more when I know more. (Yes, this is reflexive but completely on-point.)

Company X liked that answer and I’ll be starting the gig soon.

Simon Says

Organizations should be wary when consultants’ quiet eye periods on IM projects seem short. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Moreover, how do we know what we don’t know? To be sure, taking months to provide a quote or estimate is probably excessive, especially when the organization is facing critical deadlines. By the same token, however, anyone who can answer big and unwieldy questions in a few seconds really isn’t an expert at all. As such, the organization should go in a different direction.

Feedback

What say you?