The Most Effective Strategy to Estimate Projects

Estimate projects correctly is a difficult task that every project manager has to face. It doesn’t matter if you estimate in order to evaluate resource work load (time/effort estimation) or just to create customers’ offer (cost estimation), the problem is just the same.

How can I predict exceptions, delay, bottle necks and create an estimate that is as close to reality as possible?

The answer is quite simple, you can, if you count on your team.

Identify the problem:

Estimate projects is difficult, in particular when you came to big ones that last months, maybe years. In these specific cases estimation could be just a guess. An incorrect estimation can generate several problems, for your team and your company in general:

  • Underestimated projects: this is what happens the most, particularly when project managers have direct contact with customers, if you want read more about why underestimation is so common you should read this article.
    Robert works for a small company where he is a project manager and also the commercial director. He knows that his team is doing its best but he doesn’t want to lose any new customers opportunity. For this reason he underestimates his projects, trying to convince the team that every new customer can make the difference for a small company like theirs. Doing this, the quality of the product decreases, the team is overloaded and the project manager completely loses the correct perception of the project cost. Robert knows that his company will suffer of high turn over.
  • Overestimated projects: Project managers more connected with the team tend instead to a pessimistic estimation of the project.
    John is a project manager and lead architect of a young software house. Every time a new projects begin he speaks to his team to make the correct estimation of tasks. Being near to his colleagues he knows how many problem they face and he prefers to overestimate his projects. Resources look over planned and the commercial department can lose opportunities for this lack of communication. At the end of the year John knows that his team could have released more products with a correct estimation.

Being a project manager with estimating problem you have probably found yourself in one of the two described above, maybe with different circumstances but probably with the same outcome.

Of course a correct project estimation can fix all these problems, correct schedulingresources’ workload. So, how can we improve it?

Find the solution:

Being a project manager, maybe a senior one, your management skills are probably very refined, you know the effort for managing a team conflict, you probably know how to calculate the revenue of your task, but what about developing that specific product requirements? The project manager is able to identify all the phases of the project structure, but who better knows how does it take to accomplish a specific phase than the resource working on it?

The key for a correct project estimation is in your team knowledge.

Nicole is a project manager at ACME spa. She works with a smart and diversified team. Every time she is assigned to a new project and she has to estimate it she organizes a meeting with her team to develop the Gantt of the projects. Nicole sets the milestones if she has some and tries to define the end date of the project. She identifies the best resources for the work and then she asks them a refined schedule and estimation of their small portion of work. No one knows better than Giulia how effort it takes to make a perfect email layout. Nicole asks also to her colleague which problems she encounters the most and with which delay. Nicole asks to her team members to become everyone the project manager of his own specific tasks.

The knowledge of the team is very precise and very close to every specific matter, they know most of the possible exceptions, every possible delay, every bottle neck on their specific phase. To have a complete and precise estimation you have to go deeper with your team and analyze with them all the phases, let them estimate their phases like they would be the project managers, delegate. This approach will help you improve your resource management in general.

Also, if you work on projects that can repeat in time you could ask your team to specify every step of the work with its effort.

This to-do lists could be used as a template in time, to avoid loosing time estimating the same things again and again.

Save your team knowledge is the key to estimate projects correctly. It is what you can use to make comparison and learn in time estimating even better.

Conclusion

Using this strategy you could be able to have a better idea of the effort of the project and every possible exception that can occur.

  • Identify your project phases and your goal end date
  • Identify your milestones and discuss them with your team
  • Select the best resources for each phase and delegate the task to them
  • Let the team write down every step of their phase to estimate it.
  • Use the knowledge from the team on every phases to estimate the entire project from bottom up

Using this strategy with a project management software that can help you creating a Gantt chart, assigning your resources, checking their workload could really make the difference, estimate projects will become easier.

If you want to learn more about how to introduce a project management software in you company you can read our article.

Start now estimating your projects correctly

Twproject 6.0.60017: Mobile Receipt Upload

Things are a little bit messy right now at Twproject because we are developing a brand new mobile app and we are totally over excited with all the new great features we are developing. Waiting for this new amazing release, we are still improving our beautiful application, even the mobile one, today in fact I introduce you the new mobile expenses editor with the possibility to upload pictures directly from your phone. You just need to update your Twproject and the mobile application will be updated too.

File upload on assignment expenses was already available on the web application but now it is available on the mobile view too, so practical to just take pictures of your tickets and receipt and upload them on your assignment.

The complete list of bugfix and improvements is here: https://twproject.com/twproject-changelog/

This is a free upgrade for all users of Twproject 6.

It does not include database changes.

Costs Management with Twproject

Costs management is of course one of the aspects that makes the success of a project and it affects deeply the value chain. Perhaps it can be easy to manage the costs as a whole, but sometimes it is not as easy as it looks to enquire about specific aspects or the ramification of costs.

The something is going wrong feeling is, of course, not enough. The certainty that something is going wrong is not enough as well: it is necessary to know exactly what is going wrong, why and at which level (whole project, task, sub-task).

Twproject is the full featured web based project management software that gives you full visibility and control over your projects, and it manages all the aspects of the value chain as well. It allows to manage the costs of a project, particularly also the costs related to the work performed (for example, travel costs).

Furthermore, with Twproject it is possible to assign a budget related to specific issues of a single Project / Task / Sub-task (equipment, courses, external consultants…). The budget management and assignation process can be “atomized”, so that the control workflow becomes more flexible, easier, more “on the spot”.

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In this way the cost allocation can be constantly monitored as a whole and in its elements: Twproject can send an alert if the cost (even for the single Project / Task / Sub-task) is reaching the budget limit, so it is possible to monitor, and react to, budget overflow, just when and where it is really needed.

Just follow this link if you want to know more about cost management with Twproject.

 

Still in doubt? Well you can try yourself with a free demo.

Simplistic cost/benefit evaluations of organizational tools adoption

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I’ve recently received yet another request of a cost-benefit analysis given by the adoption of Teamwork, in general, of project and groupware management software. Not always in those exact terms, but we do periodically receive such requests. One may rephrase the question as “what is the exact economical gain given by adopting Teamwork”?

Very superficially, this looks like a clear question, which requires an exact answer. Let’s take a closer look.

What does it mean “adopting Teamwork”? If one takes even a cursory look at Teamwork user guide, one should quickly realize that for a tool that can integrate at so many different levels with IT infrastructure, this may mean all sorts of different things: one may be handling just high level projects, sharing them on the web, or one may have integrated it from intranet authentication and certification forms, following every little action in the company.

One may be using the exchange function with Subversion, Google calendars  and Twitter, so even the boundaries between what is done in the company by Teamwork and what is done by other applications is blurred. So “adopting Teamwork” has different meanings for each adoption process.

But there is an even bigger conceptual mistake that is lingering here, given by the first part of the question, “exact economical gain”: i.e. that taking steps in improving quality of work, by implementing software aided organizational procedures, is a purely economical gain that can be accounted for say is a year after the reorganization. Anybody that has experience in reorganization and working on quality of work and communication knows that consequences cannot be evaluated so simplistically, though they can be great, and span an entire work life.

This said, the benefit that one will have basically depends on the plan and determination of the leader that is introducing innovation, by her/his culture, open mindedness and experience in the field and in human relationship, and the respect that she gets from the team; and we believe that in some cases (not all), Teamwork can be of help for such individuals, more structured help than just a to-do list shared online. But don’t ask us to fool you with numbers thrown at random; you should probably be very suspicious of vendors that promise X% “gains in efficiency” by doing this or that. Our customer list is partly public, the best way is to ask them, and everybody will give a different answer. Just my two cents.

Pietro Polsinelli