Estimating Time Accurately: 4 Tips That Will Make or Break Your Project Budget
Unless a project or task is something that you’ve repeated many times, estimating time can be daunting. Truth is, very few of us are 100 percent correct even with lots of experience. Contingencies change, conditions are altered, and budgets and schedules collide like opposing forces bent on making even the most exacting estimates wrong. Eliminating risk is impossible, but you can mitigate the impact of inaccurate time estimates on your budget by experimenting with these tips.
1. Choose and compare your methods
Bottom-up estimates let you craft a forecast of an entire project. To create this type of estimate, you break tasks into smaller more detailed ones and then decide how much time will be needed to complete each of them. The cumulative nature of bottom-up estimates makes them more reliable than comparative approaches which rely on using past experience and project timelines as a guide.
Three-point estimates require that you make three separate estimates of time and compare them side by side. One estimate represents the most likely result, while the other two are based on best- and worst-case scenarios. This kind of estimate takes more work, but it helps when you need to present a budget that includes a cushion for unknown dependencies.
Parametric estimates can also be useful in certain circumstances. You can use parametric forecasts by calculating the time it takes to complete a single task, then multiplying it by the total number of tasks involved. This is most useful when a project is made up of fairly uniform, repetitive steps like compiling lists or performing data entry. If one page of a spreadsheet takes 1.5 hours, then it is easy to extrapolate that 10 would consume 15 hours of your time.
Tip #1. You can try using a combination of these techniques to test the validity of your estimates. Over time, you’ll learn which ones are most effective with different kinds of projects. This will make your budgets more reliable and you’ll more easily identify inefficiencies in your approach.
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