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Estimating how long a project will last is crucial to project management, but what if you tend to estimate incorrectly? For one thing, you’re certainly not alone. Many project managers grow frustrated when they see their projects stretch on for weeks or even months beyond the anticipated completion date. If you’re looking for ways to gain a more realistic view of your projects’ time requirements, the strategies listed here can help.

Tips for Estimating Project Duration

Take Lessons from Prior Projects
One of the most important things to remember in developing your project plan timeline is that you shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Even the most revolutionary project has some elements in common with other projects that you or your organization have taken on in the past.

When you start to work on your next duration estimate, compare your previous project estimates to the projects’ final timelines and look for the areas where your estimates were off. Did you miss important details about an unfamiliar task and allow too little time for its completion? Did you fail to build in enough time for key decisions that had to be made while the project was underway? Take an objective view of the timeline discrepancies you’ve dealt with in the past and find ways to avoid them in the future.

Choose the Right Approach for Your Estimate
If your organization tends to face challenges in estimating project duration, it may be time to consider an alternative approach to developing your estimates. Consult with other project managers and senior leaders to discuss whether your company’s projects and culture are suited to the top-down or bottom-up project methodologies.

While most organizations have traditionally used the top-down approach, in which the project manager fits task assignments into the overall project timeline, many companies have begun to see the benefits of the bottom-up approach. Bottom-up estimation begins with assessments of individual tasks (usually with input from project team members), which are then used to determine the appropriate timing for the project as a whole.

Use the Right Software
Enterprise projects generate vast amounts of data on task duration, scheduling challenges and other factors that influence project duration. Unfortunately, if you aren’t using the right project management solution, you may be unable to analyze and use that data to full advantage. Clarizen allows project and portfolio managers, as well as organizational leaders, to gain a comprehensive view of timelines and task durations across the entire organization. You can view comparisons between your project baseline and actuals, as well as your original plan versus the actual progress so you will always know where you stand. Not only can Clarizen help you keep your current projects on track, it can help you draw on information and create templates and project plans from your previous work to make your estimates as accurate as possible.

Clarizen is a collaborative work management solution designed for people who value their time, and for organizations that value cross-company engagement. Find out how Clarizen’s project management solutions can help you move your organization forward. Try it free today for 30 days.

David Goulden
David is a Product Director in Clarizen's Solutions Team. With over 15 years of experience working with startup technology teams and their customers, he joined Clarizen several years ago in the Customer Success team working with some of Clarizen's largest companies in the media, IT and financial services industries and authored some of Clarizen's most popular apps.David currently owns Clarizen's IT use case initiative and is responsible for taking Clarizen's Apps Marketplace to the next level. David has an MSc in Analysis, Design and Management of Information Systems from London School of Economics.