When beginning a new job every Project Manager will seek to reassure the client that the project will be delivered on time and in budget. In fact most Project Managers will make a positive virtue of how effective they are at bringing in projects on time and in budget on their CVs. The reality, however, is that in some respect the vast majority of projects will overrun or over-spend to some degree – largely because the Project Manager was over optimistic in their estimates as to how long it would take or cost. So, is estimating important in Project Management?
The idea of arriving at accurate estimates is of course an oxymoron – by their very nature estimates are not meant to be accurate. In planning a project all you can do is estimate the costs and time required as, when the project begins, these can be subject to all manner of fluctuations outside of your control. However, that does not mean that the estimates, plans, that you draw up before the project begins should be slack or over generous – which equates to having low expectations in the hope that they will be exceeded. Giving the plans considerably more time than required or pushing budgets to the clients absolute limit will just store up trouble for the future. By setting low expectations you’ll invoke a sense of mañana in the workforce that will be difficult to overcome when the pressure is later on you to get the job done.
Making estimates accurate.
Being able to make accurate estimates is key to delivering a solid project plan. Estimates for costs, time, people, resources etc need to be made at two levels – the worst and best scenarios possible. If you have other staff available to you at the planning stage get them involved in providing you with the best and worst case scenarios for delivering their part of the project – then, you as project leader, can make informed decisions as to the figures that are actually recorded in the plan. If you should be on your own at the planning stage – do take the time to consult experts in the field that you’re planning estimates for, to check your thoughts through. It’s a fact but estimating things outside your own sphere of knowledge can be out by two or even three hundred percent! Next time we’ll think about good practice in estimating.