Accurately estimating the time required for a project is a key ingredient for effective project management, and is a win-win for everyone. Unfortunately, however, many project managers underestimate the time required for completing their project because they are not familiar with the task at hand and fail to familiarise themselves with the intricacies and complexities of the project.
To help you avoid making these mistakes, below are our top tips on how to estimate time for a project.
1) Start with the end in mindThe first thing you need to do is to think about and understand the outcome that is expected of the project. Then identify all the tasks that need to be accomplished in order to complete it, and make sure there will be no unknowns left to tackle at the last minute. This way, you’ll be able to create a blueprint to work from that accounts for both the expected and the unexpected.
2) Create a listNow that you know all the tasks that need to be done to complete your project, list all these activities in a chronological order. You can use an Excel spreadsheet for this (MakeUseOf has some great templates), or if you want to keep it simple, you could even jot them down on a piece of paper.
You don’t have to estimate the exact time required for each task at this stage, but make a note of any important deadlines, if applicable.
3) Involve your team membersTwo is always better than one, especially when it comes to planning, so make sure to involve your team members who will work on the project. This has two benefits. Firstly, they may help you find any potential plug holes in the plan. In addition, when you give them responsibility, they will take ownership of everything they do, which will be of great benefit in the next stage.
Not convinced? Here's a great article from Project Smart on the importance of working together with your team.
4) Come up with an estimateNow that you have a breakdown of all the tasks that need to be completed to deliver the project, it’s time for you to begin estimating how long each of these tasks will take. However, always remember to estimate time required for each task, not the entire project.
Think about the time you’ll need for meetings, administration, liaison with third parties, reporting, testing, quality assurance and all the other activities that are crucial to the success of the project.
Make sure to allow some time for unexpected contingencies such as equipment failure, sickness, accidents, personal emergencies, supply constraints, and any anything else that might be relevant to your project.
Always think about any potential complexities that may crop up in each part of the project. For example, there might be some delays due to rejections during quality control stage. Or, if the first task of your project is getting permission from government authorities, consider the average time required for approval, and allow some extra time for possible delays as well.
5) Prepare a scheduleOnce you have estimated the time required for each task, prepare a project schedule. Create separate lists for scheduling activities, assigning resources to the project and to finalise deadlines.
6) Create a checklist for every taskCreating a checklist for each task and each stage of your project will help you track your progress, see what has been accomplished so far and which tasks are still left to do. This checklist will complement your time estimate and help you to ensure you don’t fall far behind these estimates.
Can you think of any other tips or tricks on how to estimate time for a project that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!