Estimating is part science and part art.
In this video, I provide some guidance on how to strengthen your estimating capabilities.
In this video. I’m going to talk about estimating. I’m going to talk about what estimates are.
I want to talk about how estimates work and then I’m going to offer you a couple of pointers that can help you to do better estimates. So what are estimates when you’re starting off a new project. Typically what happens is your project manager or the manager whoever is managing that entire project is going to come to you and they’re going to ask you how long you think that your portion of the project is going to take. OK how long is your portion of the project going to take. Now what is your portion of the project. I’ll talk about that in a second OK. But that’s basically what an estimate is is that somebody is saying how long do you think it’s going to take you to finish this this this part of the overall project. The one thing I want you to understand about the nature of estimates is that estimating isn’t a science. OK. So you can’t just read a book or take a course on estimating and then voila your perfect estimate. Because estimating is part science and it’s part art. Right. So it’s a it’s a mix of you learning the techniques of estimating and then through experience you being able to get a gut feel of how long it takes to do certain tasks giving certain conditions that exist. So the thing that you should understand about the nature of estimating is that it is not clear cut. OK.
Estimating is a very fuzzy area of your profession and it takes time and it takes experience and it takes a lot of iteration to learn it. OK. So that’s what I want to say about what estimating is and a little bit about the nature of estimating how estimates work. Typically when you provide your estimates to your project manager or your manager they don’t take your estimates at face value. Very rarely will somebody say you’ll give an estimate of let’s say it’s going to take me three months to perform this this set of tasks and it’s very rare that your project manager would say OK fine you have three months typically typically what happens is that you go through a process to arrive about the estimate that goes into their plant. OK so the first stage of that is that you provide your estimates. OK. So you look at the work that you think needs to be done. And based on what you know about how long it takes to do certain things and how much time you’re going to need and what kind of resources are available at the time that you need to have all of that all your work done based on all of that information you provide an estimate then the project manager before they’ve even come to you. Typically if they’re a very experienced project manager they already have a good idea of how much time you have. But they need to hear it from you about how long you think it’s going to take. So once you provide your estimates the project manager is going to take your estimates and they’re going to really kind of do a gut check on it to see whether it fits what it is that they thought it would take. And if they if they see that it’s more or less in line then you might be in the clear right. That’s the one instance where you might be in the clear but you’re probably you don’t. They’ll probably try to squeeze you a little bit anyways. But traditionally and no judgment that right. That’s just the way that things work. But the project manager is going to check it against their own understanding of how how long they thought it’s going to take and if there’s a lot of variation between what you’ve said and what they think it’s going to take then there’s going to be the next stage of your estimating process which is the challenging and refinement. So when you provide an estimate and it’s completely out of line with the project what the project manager thought they’re going to say Well tell me why you think it’s going to take this long because that’s not the way that I see it the way that I see it. And then then what you have to do is you have to start to be able to defend your estimates. OK. And the the important thing here is that when you present your first set of estimates there are certain things that you have to attach to it so that if you arrive at the second stage that you have what you need to be able to defend your estimates you need to be able to explain why you think it’s going to take this long or you need to be able to provide a list of items that you think are in scope. There’s a lot of other things that are involved in the estimates and I’ll talk about those in another video. But the second stage is is that you’re going to get challenged on your estimates more likely than not. And you have to be prepared for that. That’s just a natural part of the process. Then what happens is that once you go through the challenging process those numbers are going to adjust. More than likely. OK. Because the project manager has a budget that they already have for the project. And if your estimates fall way outside of that something has to change. Either you have to learn to produce more work in a shorter period of time which is hard and in some cases it’s nearly impossible to get things right that way. Either that has to happen or something has to come out of the scope of the project in order to fit the project managers budget.
OK but once you go through the challenging process and the estimates get set for the project then the project manager says OK. You said it’s going to take you three months based on all the conversations we’ve had. We know now we’ve both agreed now that well you’re going to be able to get all of this stuff done in two months. Right. That goes into the project managers plan. Once it’s in the plan you may have the impression that that’s written in stone and that everything is said and done and to some extent it is. But there are always caveats because project managers if you understand how project management works they know that what happens is everything that they have in their plan is really an estimate until things actually get done right.
Project managers have this area of study that’s called progressive collaboration. Okay I’ll say that again it’s the words of progressive elaboration on what progressive collaboration means is that project managers understand that you provide a ballpark estimate at the time that you’re starting the project based on what you know. But as you move through the project things always change and they know this but they might not always leave you with the impression that there is such a thing as progressive elaboration because the job of a project manager is to hold you to account for the estimates that you’ve provided. Right. But you should understand that that concept exists and so you are not going to be forced to hold onto your estimates regardless of what else happens. It’s not like you know you told me three months ago that the project manager would never say to you. You told me 3 months ago that it was going to take you two or three months. We agreed on a certain date and regardless what happened in those two months that estimate still sticks. That’s not the way things work. OK so understand the concept of progressive elaboration that once your estimates go into the project managers plans things can still change depending on what pops up between the time you gave your estimates and the time you’re supposed to be able to deliver your portion of the analysis work. So that’s what estimating is and that is generally speaking how the process of estimating works. Now I want to offer you a few pointers a few pointers that are going to help you to make your estimates a little bit more solid from the get-go.
If at all possible the first I want to talk about what goes into your estimates is very very important. OK the thing that you need to make sure that you do is that at the time you’re providing estimates you don’t just provide a date.
You don’t just provide a number of hours or a number of days because what that does is that it does not prepare you for the second stage of estimating that we talked about right. Doesn’t give you any kind of information to rely on if you have to ever defend your estimates.
If you just gave a number and so it’s easier to challenge those kinds of estimates because they’re not really backed by anything what you have to do when you’re providing estimates is that your estimate always has to come with two things has to come with a scope statement and it has to come with a set of assumptions. Those two things should always be included in your estimates.
And if if you’re a project manager or your manager just ignores those two things you have to make sure that those two things are still communicated. Right. Because what your scope and your assumptions say to the project manager is that it says here’s my estimate. Let’s say I give it in a number of days it’s going to take me 40 days to finish this job.
It’s going to take me 40 days to deliver the scope that’s attached to the estimates. Right. The scope isn’t just open because you have to know what it is that you’re estimating. So your scope statement has to have at least that the bullet point level the number of things that you’re going to be delivering.
Assumptions are critical and assumptions are the part of your estimate that are the most likely to get ignored when push comes to shove. But you have to make sure that they’re in your estimates because when you estimates are being challenged you have to be able to pull up your scope. You have to be able to pull up your assumptions and say OK well when I first estimated this I estimated that based on this scope. But I also estimated assuming these things right. I assume that there are certain things that are going to be happening completely outside of the system.
Right. If your assumptions don’t hold up that.