Every project start is a step into the unknown. Even if you are a tough old bird in the field, you will have jitters. It stems from the fear of failure, uncertainty, and doubt that comes with any new beginning. In spite of the irrational nature of such feelings, you can alleviate them by doing the most logical - project estimation.
Project estimation is a process of defining the main steps on the way to your goal and the resources (human, financial &, etc.) you’ll need to reach the final point. Additionally, you examine the sphere where a project takes place to know there won’t be any obstacles on your way. If there are some, knowing what challenges you are going to face, you’ll pass them easily.
Eventually, estimation does much more than just allowing you to have a steady nerve during the project. It also influences the project’s success itself from many angles. That’s why we’ve decided to tell you about the benefits of project estimation and the ways you can make it as precise as possible. By the end of the article, you will know the answers to the following questions:
- Why is it important to estimate?
- What is the role of time & cost estimation?
- How to estimate costs & time to get better results?
How Can Estimating be Helpful & How to make it right?
Why is estimating important in Project Management
The project estimation has a decisive impact on its long and short-term success for many reasons. It helps you to:
- Decide if it is a great project that worth your effort in the first place;
- Understand what steps would it take to bring it to life;
- Calculate the overall cost of the project implementation;
- Attract investors or convince your stakeholders to participate;
- Set a precise date of completion for your project.
In any case, all of them are connected to one of the triple constraint model elements: budget, time, or scope. According to the triple constraint theory, these three elements are interrelated, so the change in one affects the others. For instance, if the completion of a task is delayed, you can bear financial costs that can harm your budget limits. Or, the lack of clear sight of the project’s specifications will inevitably damage your budget and deadlines. At the end of the day, the synergy between time, cost, and scope defines the quality of the project.
A project estimate, in its turn, is the focal point that brings balance to those 3 dimensions. Therefore, the success of your project is directly proportional to the accuracy of your time and cost estimation. We skipped the scope because a proper estimation of the time & costs includes it in itself.
Now, let’s consider the benefits and priority areas of time and cost estimation in more detail.
Role of Time Estimation
There are so many spheres to which you can apply the time estimation principles. It concerns the enterprise-level projects that change industries, along with the children’s plans to play a video game and make it to a friend’s birthday party. However, a kid immersed in a game and a manager of a six-figure budget project will have radically different prices for their timing failures. That’s why we will review some areas where the stakes are the highest first:
- Software development projects
Software development projects’ success depends highly on time management. They never start without a comprehensive roadmap. In this case, time frames affect not only the work processes but also the investors’ and users’ attitudes. What's more, you'll need to find the correct approach to accomplish the project the best way possible.
- Building projects
You can’t build a skyscraper from the roof. So, the sequential timeline is a must for this type of enterprise. Basically, the construction projects depend on investors’ and buyers’ aspirations, like software development ones. But above it, every standstill will cost the managers the quality of construction.
- Startups of any kind
A roadmap is an essential part of any startup that counts on success. It’s a sort of assurance to the investors and stakeholders that they put their money on something worthy. Additionally, it helps marketers to know when to warm up the interest, which can turn into a green-bill tsunami on the release date.
Now you know where you can’t get away without project management time estimation. So let’s move to the actual benefits of it:
Making expenses more efficient
Time is money. The more effectively you spend your precious hours, the better and faster results you get. The better and faster results you get, the more profit you have in the bottom line. It is pretty straightforward and simple logic. To streamline your project, you have to set up a decent time frame for each stage. It will allow you to put every penny into work and waste none.
Setting a steady work pace
If you’ve managed a project before, you should know that it is crucial to create a balanced work pace. Speaking of a balanced work pace, we mean equilibrium between speed and quality. On the one hand, following the urge to finish your project ASAP will negatively affect its quality. On the other hand, rattling on can harm your budget and team motivation level. So, first of all, time estimating allows you to set the golden deadlines to achieve a high standard and speed.
Enhancing project credibility
A project that has an in-depth roadmap with clear and coherent milestones inspires the confidence of customers and investors. The future buyers would rather make a preorder of a product when they know the exact time they get their purchase. Furthermore, the investors will be more willing to support the projects that can demonstrate results in a timely manner. Needless to say, broken deadlines will bring heavy damage to the reputation of your project and you as a manager.
Role of Cost Estimation
Estimation plays a vital role in project cost management on multiple levels. The types of enterprise that benefit the most from it are pretty the same as in time estimation. Therefore, let’s cut to the enormous impact that cost estimation can have on your project:
Staying within budget
A precise cost estimate allows you to prevent budget overruns. To make it work, you’ll need to have a clear understanding of what you want to have as a result. Plus, consider the time frames because they influence labor prices big time.
Better project management
Knowing your budget limits will help you to choose services, specialists, and equipment for your project. Furthermore, it will greatly define the time limits within which you should complete your project. Ultimately, you will attain more confidence in decision-making and have a clear view of your project’s resources.
Increasing your profit
This benefit resembles the previous one. If you have no additional outlays on the way to the project completion, you will have the anticipated profit.
Accurate predictions of the project’s costs enhance your relationships with sponsors and customers. Investors certainly wouldn’t be happy if you take them unaware of additional expenses or delays.
Thus, foresee all possible charges and make them known to sponsors in the cost estimate. As for customers, cost estimation helps you to determine a fair price on your future product or service beforehand.
Time Estimation Tips & Techniques
As we’ve got to understand the huge impact estimation has on your project’s success, let's get down to the actual time estimation techniques and tips.
Let’s start with some tips:
Be clear on what you need to do
Depending on your project, it may include thorough discussion with the stakeholders or just your own mind making. It would help if you based the latter not on your aspirations alone but on some actual data. Further, you’ll find more tips on how to support your time estimate with relevant facts. At this stage, you set up the milestones and break them into smaller tasks. There are tons of tools like Gantt charts or WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) that can help you out with it.
Use Historical Data & Expert advice
Many project managers fall into the so-called planning trap. It’s a psychological trap that is defined by people’s tendency to underestimate the time they need for various tasks. To avoid that, you should take into account the historical data and expert advice.
Historical data includes financial reports, project documentation, and many more. In fact, you can get valuable information that will help you to estimate time from many sources. The most important things are the way it is connected to your particular goals and how you analyze them.
Then, people who have had the experience in the projects like yours bring more life to that data. They can share plenty of precious information about what challenges you can face on your way and how to tackle them. So don’t hesitate to find such a counselor to assist you with your time estimation.
Techniques to make a precise time estimation:
Applying that technique, you will define the small tasks that you need to do and then move on to their categories. Afterward, they will comprise the milestones on your timeline.
This technique is the opposite of the previous one. Here you define the major steps first. Further, as you guessed, you break them down into minor tasks.
Using these techniques, you can count the time you’ll need for similar tasks. It is about estimating the time for one task and then multiplying the total on the number of such tasks. For example, you need to build a wall of a thousand bricks. With parametric estimation, you will measure the time for one brick and then multiply it by 1000.
Three-point estimation is more time-consuming than any other technique listed here. However, it brings the most accurate predictions.
The technique consists of making time estimation on three scenarios: optimistic (O), pessimistic(P), and most likely(M). Then you need to make calculations by the following formula: E = (O+4M+P)/6. E in this formula will be the final time estimation for your project.
Time Estimation Software Tools
The tech progress left its footprint in the sphere of time and project management too. Specialized software can significantly improve your time estimation. It collects statistics, historical data, and gives precise reports automatically. Apart from that, you’ll have all the information presented in an authentic and convenient interface. You can even claim the assistance of professional developers and get your own time estimation software template. In fact, custom software solutions tend to bring more quality into your estimation process.
To make a perfect time estimate, it is better to combine all the techniques.
Cost Estimation Tips & Techniques
Let’s start with an illustration. Those cool guys in the gif picture below give you an example of the wrong budget management. If you want to stay afloat, never try it on your project. Not a bill should fly out of your pocket for no particular reason.
In this case, you use techniques and tips that are mostly the same as for time estimation. You’ll need some historical data and an expert that will tell you where to direct your resources first. Apart from that, cost estimation will demand meticulous research and calculations. A key for developing a project cost estimates is to:
- Define the purpose and make up a plan of your estimate;
- Choose the approach for your estimate elements;
- Analyze the related data and find cost drivers;
- Estimate all the elements you added to your plan;
- Consider risk and make sensitivity analysis;
- Document your estimate and show it to your investors;
- Update your cost estimate, if needed.
As you learned the major steps in cost estimation, let’s go through the techniques:
If you have had projects similar to your current one, you can make great use of this method. The experience of the previous projects will help you to make your further estimations more precise. In case you had no such opportunity, you can find a similar experience of the other companies.
If you need a more detailed estimation, opt for the bottom-up estimation technique. It presupposes calculation of cost for each task and then summing them up. This approach will be especially beneficial for projects and start-ups with tight budgets.
The technique uses statistical and historical data to predict possible expenses. It helps you define the line items for your project and count their cost.
The technique is analogous to the one we mentioned in the time estimation part. It has the same scenarios and the same formula (E = (O+4M+P)/6). Just insert your cost estimation parameters and count.
Cost Estimation Software
To make your calculations more precise, you can employ project management estimating software. It's capable of tracking the expenses in real-time and demonstrating the stage you are in. Besides, it will check if you comply with the budget limits. In a word, the toolset of estimation software is only limited by the developers’ imagination. Thus, it even makes sense to create a custom estimation template just for your project’s needs. Fortunately, there are great cost estimation templates available for free.
Cost of quality
This technique comes into play when you want to do as much as you can to avoid failures. Also, you can include some money to cover possible failures that can appear after the project release.
Again, the best results come with the complex approach where you employ as much cost estimation as possible.
That will be all. Now you know why it is important to use estimation in project management and how it helps you to achieve your goals. Being armed to the teeth with the proven estimation techniques and software tools, you will smash all the trouble out of your way to success.
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