Estimating is one of the most difficult things to do when running a project. Estimates are what drive both budget and timeline and can often impact critical decisions that determine the outcome (and at times success or failure) of the project. That’s why it is so important to ensure that you and your team run effective estimating sessions. Here are some pro tips on how to do it.
Know Your Scope, Know Your Approach
Without knowing your scope and knowing it well, estimating is just as good as guessing. It is up to the project manager and the entire team to be clear on what is to be delivered and how it is to be delivered. Understand the approach that will be taken to build and deliver what is being discussed. Know what tools you need to do the job. Is there training that your team needs? How familiar are your team members with these tools? Understanding your scope means understanding it not only from the builder’s perspective but also the customer’s. Understand how the customer intends to use the product you are developing, make sure that all your agreed-to use cases are known and understood. Understanding the full scope and how it is to be delivered is a cornerstone of good estimating.
Plan for the Known Unknown
So many of our good estimates fall apart when we start putting them into action due to things that we didn’t consider that weren’t right in front of us. This is where an experienced project manager can earn their money. Drawing on past projects, the project manager can provide guidance and ‘what if’ scenarios to the project team. And likewise, the senior project team members who’ve ‘been there and done that’ can do the same. Known unknowns can mean things like your customer’s ability to embrace the product you are developing or their drive and aptitude towards testing. Intangibles like how productive is the workspace or project room that has been set up are all things that can contribute or take a way from the success of your project and can impact your estimates.
Be Disciplined and Consistent
There are several different estimating methods in use in the industry today. PERT, poker planning to name a few. Whichever method you choose to employ for your estimating session is fine, but it’s important to be consistent in your approach and disciplined in how you estimate. A lot of times when estimating sessions are running long or if there are other distractions, your team may not be as disciplined as they need to be when thinking through their estimates and may just give a number to give a number. Be cognizant of this happening and take steps to mitigate it – maybe take a 30-minute break to let everyone sort their distractions and come back with a fresh mind.
Good estimating is one of the pillars of a strong project and one of the pillars of good estimating is planning and running an effective estimating session. Use these tips to help plan your next one and you’ll see some great results!