Project Management

Common Estimating Mistakes

Brad Egeland is an IT/project management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management and project management experience leading initiatives in manufacturing, government contracting, gaming and hospitality, retail operations, aviation and airline, pharmaceutical, start-ups, healthcare, higher education, not-for-profit, high-tech, engineering and general IT.

I’m generally of the opinion that the ability to make good estimates is much more of a gift than anything else. Some people can do it and some never get the hang of it; it’s sort of like the difference between a football quarterback who can read defenses just by looking at them and one who never can. Success is going to come very hard for the latter, if at all.

It really doesn’t matter whether you’re good at providing estimates or not, it’s a necessary evil and it must be done. You’ll often find yourself performing this task several times during the project. Even though I consider it a gift, in general, I do realize it’s something that can be learned--so you’d better figure out how to do it if you aren’t a pro yet. You’ll find yourself needing to estimate individual tasks in terms of cost and timeframe, effort for change orders and completion dates for work the customer is proposing to get done. The project manager and team need to be ready to provide some meaningful responses when these questions arise.

Even if you seem to have the estimating gift, there are still issues that can render it meaningless or highly inaccurate--some you have control over, and many that you don't. Here are some common estimating issues that can often negatively impact your project:

Padding: When the estimator (who is …


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"A good composer is slowly discovered. A bad composer is slowly found out."

- Sir Ernest Newman