How many times have you given a client a timeline estimate, only to have the actual delivery date surpass it by days or even weeks? It’s embarrassing and makes you wonder whether accurate time estimates are little more than an oxymoron.
They may not be easy to create, but in project management they are vital for two primary reasons:
Project managers often underestimate how much time they need to complete all deliverables. This is especially true if:
Time estimation is (and probably always will be) a combination of educated guesswork and risk mitigation supported by personal experience, feedback from others, and records for similar projects. The tips below can eliminate enough ambiguity to make an accurate time estimation based on present resources and circumstances.
While all good project managers gather as much information about the desired outcome as possible, there can still be a lot of unknowns, especially if you have never worked on this type of project before. Asking the right questions will help you identify any experience or knowledge gaps so that you can educate yourself accordingly before work begins.
Examples of these questions include:
Once you realize what you don’t know, find the answers. Then compile a task list that represents the desired progression of the project, complete with milestones.
You probably have a systematic approach in place to include timeline factors that you have encountered in the past. If this project type is new to you, consult a colleague or, ideally, a team member who has both expertise and experience in its scope and get their input on the difficult problems or situations you should expect and prepare for.
Examples of known variables include:
Below is a list of possible setbacks that you should allow extra time for, as they can lengthen the amount of time needed to complete the project.
After you’ve spoken to the client and plugged any knowledge gaps by conferring with more experienced colleagues and team members, it’s time to create an accurate time estimation. Here are some tips that can guide and inform your scheduling.
Once you’ve got your time estimation and schedule in place, manage it using a trusted project management tool like Teamweek. One of its most powerful features is Daily Time Estimates, which makes it easier to predict how much time your team to complete a particular task. Not only does it allow you to monitor each team member’s workload and better plan your resources, but you can also elect to receive the Weekly Digest Email, which lets you know how well you planned.
Once projects get off the ground, they tend to take on a life of their own. While you may create an accurate time estimation based on known and predictable factors, projects requirements sometimes charge as time passes. For example:
While there isn’t always a lot you can do when this happens, you can adjust the timeline in Teamweek to reflect the change or setback and see if there are ways to accommodate it while remaining on schedule. Are there any team members with a lighter workload who can take on extra tasks? If so, make the necessary changes in Teamweek so that you can monitor the new arrangement.
Let’s face it- in project management, things can go wrong and make your original project timeline look like wishful thinking. But by using some effective techniques, you can significantly improve the accuracy of your estimates.