There are those of us that are really good at estimating how long a particular project will take, or how much effort can be reasonably expended in a period of time. And then there’s the rest of us.
Whether it is through sheer hope or lack of experience, we often underestimate the amount of time and energy it ALWAYS takes to complete a project and overestimate the number of things we can add to our plates.
While this can be painful at best if the project only affects you, when it affects your team, or the organization as a whole, estimation of time and effort really become critical to the success of the project, team morale and completion of strategic objectives.
Here are six strategies to consider for those of you that may share frustrations in estimating:
- How clearly defined is the scope of the project? Do you know EXACTLY WHAT needs to be accomplished, and EXACTLY HOW it will be accomplished? If not, allow time for investigation, planning and re-planning- especially if this is uncharted territory.
- Ask your experts. Typically – those actually doing the work are better suited to advise you on the time and effort you’ll need to complete the task – or even just define the scope of the task. Be advised and then, as the leader – be sure to take into consideration if this person has been a good judge in the past, what other tasks may also be coming up, give room for other variables and then adjust the schedule and your expectations accordingly.
- Be mindful that many people on your team may want to naturally try to accommodate your wishes. Be sure to ask probing questions about their portion of the project, what is required and what other expectations are on them. This will save you down the road when they are floundering because they have agreed to do too much. Also be sure to check in with them frequently to encourage open communication so that you can adjust the schedule and expectations as necessary.
- Be mindful of your own desire to accommodate an unrealistic schedule. It’s no secret that leaders are under pressure to perform and to get the project done quickly and under budget. As you collect scheduling information from your team – ideally your experts – be sure to examine your motives if you think that the project could or should be done faster or cheaper. Holding strong to a realistic goal allows you to under-promise and (potentially) over-deliver – a much better position than over-promising and under-delivering!
- Expect that nothing will go as planned. Help your team to realize that when they are estimating, they should plan for technical glitches, changes in scope or priority. These are all natural occurrences in a project of any sized organization. Change is a constant – but if you’re expecting it, you can help your team to adjust that much more quickly.
- When in doubt – give the schedule a little cushion. Your percentage of increase will vary depending on your experience and that of your team, but as long as the goals of the project can withstand it, add a little more time on top just in case. You’ll be surprised how often you need it!
Once you are relatively certain of a good estimation, a project leader needs to be a champion, cheerleader and barrier remover once the work is underway. Delivering a project on time and on target is a very gratifying feeling – and working toward that is important for your team and the organization as a whole. However, if the path and the itinerary are not clear from the get go- or the expected arrival date is unreasonable or just plain wrong– no one will enjoy the trip! Frustrations will mount both on your part and that of your team and targets will be missed. Developing your skill in estimating a project scope and schedule to enable your team’s success will result in far more satisfaction on everyone’s part!