Speeding up task execution is
not always the solution to hitting our targets on time. Sometimes, the root
cause of delays in our projects is faulty time estimation.
This happens when we fail to
calculate accurately the amount of time needed to accomplish a task. Or we
don’t make allowances for unexpected hurdles.
As business leaders, our ability
to produce high-quality goods on-time is extremely crucial. Unfulfilled
timelines can cost us our clients or our reputation. Our speed and agility in
research and product development could position our brands on the cutting edge.
I have a list of time-saving
tips for project managers that I cling to. But one of my most trusted
time-saving techniques is making
accurate time estimates for tasks. Did you know
that wrong time estimates are the root cause of 25 per cent of failed projects,
according to a 2018 study by the Project Management Institute?
It’s time to add this tool to
your project management kit.
How to make accurate time estimates for better project timelines
We’re not reinventing the wheel
here. There are established techniques that have helped entrepreneurs and
project managers for decades, such as the following:
Bottom-up estimating involves breaking down big tasks into smaller tasks, and
further down to much smaller tasks until you’ve reached the most basic task.
Then you estimate how much time each task will take and add it all up to find
out how much time you need for an entire project. The idea is, the more
detailed you get, the more accurate your estimate will be.
Top-down estimating is looking at a project from an end-result perspective, where
you consider the purpose and target deadline before tackling the planning part.
You also look at similar projects in the past as a guide. It’s best to combine
the top-down and bottom-up approaches and tweak aspects of your project based
on these two.
Comparative estimating consults historical data or experience for the ideal time
Three-point estimating projects three possible outcomes for completing each task: the
fastest, the normal, and the delayed or worst-case-scenario.
For example, if driving to your
office usually takes 15 minutes, you can say that you will either arrive in 10
minutes if you take shortcuts and drive at maximum speed, arrive in 15 minutes
if go the usual route and pace, or arrive in 30 minutes if there’s unusual
Though all these look easy on
paper, we all know that it’s trickier in real life. Whether we admit it or not,
we’re all prone to the Planning Fallacy.
Psychologists Daniel Kahneman
and Amos Tversky proposed that we are all inclined to underestimate how long it
takes to get a task done even though previously, it already took us or others a
longer time to get it done. One reason this happens is that there are always
unpredictable events that may delay our plans. Does this sound familiar?
Set yourself apart, don’t fall
for the planning fallacy
Even experienced managers fall
prey to this. Our consolation is that experience can teach us in ways that
stick unless, of course, we’re too stubborn and choose to keep repeating the same
To avoid falling prey to a
planning fallacy, remember three things:
Anticipate possible sources of delay. Use your imagination and think of worst-case scenarios. Base it on experience, yours or others.’
Seek advice from experienced project managers who’ve handled projects similar to yours
Apply the three-point estimating technique by always preparing for a delayed-case scenario
Never think you’re exempt from the planning fallacy! We all have this tendency and so be cautious and always provide margins for error (or safety, if you prefer to be positive)
Be teachable. It’s better to apply principles right away than learn the hard way, things that books and counsel could have taught you.
Now let me close by quoting from
William S. Burroughs, “The best way to keep something bad from happening is to
see it ahead of time… and you can’t see it if you refuse to face the
It takes experience, lots of it,
our time management and time estimation
skills. But if you’re teachable, this is an invaluable skill that will give the
delivery of your goods and services a level of precision that many of us only