Associates often underestimate the time it takes to complete a project. The thinking is that they want to encourage the partner to provide more opportunities and they understand that generally the preference is for the assignment to be completed quickly (today) and efficiently (with as small amount of time billed as possible). However, this practice of underestimating the time will not likely lead to the desired result of gaining additional opportunities. Instead, it is likely to lead to fewer opportunities as the project takes more time to complete than predicted.
Check out this article about the power of managing expectations called “What Airlines Don’t Get About Delays.” It explains why people generally feel good about Disney (which pleasantly surprises you with its overestimates of wait times) but carry negative feelings about airlines (which seem to consistently disappoint passengers with their underestimates of length of delays).
Two possible solutions to determine a more realistic estimate are to: i) get to work on the assignment to determine the lay of the land so you have some idea what is involved before opining; and ii) have a discussion with the assigning partner on how long she expects the assignment to take and what she feels is appropriate to charge the client (in case those two are different). Then, at least you have some relevant information from which you can make your estimate. And depending on the circumstances you may want to provide yourself a little cushion like Disney (while being mindful of partner/client expectations).
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