Being asked to estimate how long a task or project is going to take is an understandable query from any client or stakeholder. People need to plan, and those plans need to be built around an accurate work estimation. But just because it’s so commonplace, doesn’t mean everyone’s very good at it. For a variety of reasons, most people are far below where they would like to be in terms of project estimation accuracy.
Sometimes we are inaccurate because we unknowingly overestimate capacity and capability, other times it’s to try and impress stakeholders or get a project pushed through, presuming we’ll just be able to work harder to make it a reality, and other times it’s because risk and variables weren’t properly factored in. If you’re looking to improve your project or work estimation, here are some places to start.
- Only use parameters you can know.
This might seem obvious, but our accuracy decreases the more distant the focus becomes. For example, if you were going to walk cross-country, you’d give a far more accurate estimate as to where you’d be after one day than after one month. Always be wary of giving a long-term project estimation unless you have broken things down to a granular level and are satisfied that all the smaller pieces accurately add up to the whole.
- Use all available previous knowledge.
When about to start a project estimation, it’s useful to look back over previous similar projects and extract data about how long tasks took. Team members, task specifics or technology might have changed, like trends toward adopting online project management software, but at least it will give you a good ball-park figure, which can also be used as support when making a project case.
- Track your time as you go.
One of the great benefits of online project management software like Clarizen is that it can be used to easily keep tabs on all the minutiae of a project, including tracking time take for different tasks. Not only will this become historical data that helps you to make better future estimates, but it also gives you a much clearer idea of project progress in general.
- Develop ratios for standard tasks.
As you move through different projects, it’s useful to solicit the opinions of subject matter experts to find out what a solid industry average ratio for their field is. Whether it is words written per hour, lines of code produced per day or any other relatively standard task, knowing what a reasonable or top-end estimate would be allows you to keep your estimates within achievable parameters.
- Factor in all elements of a task.
When it comes to a task, we often think purely in terms of it actually being executed, the “doing” bit. However, there are many other elements that go into allowing that to happen. So, a task is better off being broken down into Planning, Development, Execution and Closing, which allows you to give a full account of all the time and resources that go into a single task.
When developing or sharing project estimates, using a project management tool can be a huge help. It allows you to pull together previous task length information and create instant reports on proposed delivery dates. Get introduced to how Clarizen can help work estimation by checking out our live demo and Q&A sessions here.