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.


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

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