Estimating take up far too much time and are, as my 3-year old says about everything right now, ‘a bit boring’. I have no idea where he picked that up from. Don’t judge me!
I digress. We need to do estimates. And if you are one of those strange people who LOVE doing estimates, then skip this article and go and read this one instead!
Take a deep breath, and think for a moment about why we bother to do estimates. In his book, Project Management for Humans, which is soon to be released, Brett Harned provides 4 reasons why estimates are important for people on the team.
1. Estimates help you cost the project
“Estimates are based on a level of effort and times,” Brett writes. “Typically, the cost of a project is based on the time spent on a project. Your estimate helps calculate a rough determination of that cost and sometimes whether or not the project is worth the investment.”
A giant estimate normally comes with a giant price tag, and that might mean you don’t go ahead with the project. Or you scale down the scope significantly so you still get some benefit and don’t have to spend half your annual budget on this one project.
Either way, knowing how long things are going to take gives you valuable information to make informed decisions about your project and whether or not it should go ahead in the current form.
2. Estimates help you staff the project
Estimates are created around specific tasks and the skills required to complete those tasks.
Your estimate therefore gives you clues about who you need to do the work. And in turn, that gives you a good idea about how long the work will take.
For example, a senior developer might take a week to complete a task, but your apprentice developer would take a month, and need someone else working alongside them to help check the work and support them during the coding. Knowing this you can then decide what’s more important: having the work done quickly or upskilling the apprentice. Or maybe you won’t have a choice, if the skilled developer is working on something else and isn’t available.
Either way, estimating the work and thinking of who is involved in doing it will give you invaluable information for your plan.
3. Estimates help you plan dependencies
If you know how long a task will take you can better plan for the impact it is going to have on other tasks or on other projects. The duration of a task can help you schedule the next set of tasks, or tell another project manager when they’ll be able to start work on their project (or task).
For example, if you are tying up your senior developer for 4 weeks, in a business that only has one developer with those skills, the next project to use that person will have to wait until they are free. That’s a dependency on that skilled person.
You have a number of options to deal with that dependency including changing the project priorities so the other project gets the resource before you if that project is ‘more important’, buying in external skilled resource if you want to do both at the same time, or even having someone else with less ability work on it so you can at least make a start. But you need to know that you have a problem with resourcing and dependencies before you can start to come up with solutions to address it.
Here’s an introduction to dependencies and constraints on projects. Even knowing that your project doesn’t have dependencies on any other work is a big help with your planning because it frees you up to get on with things safe in the knowledge that your team isn’t messing anything up for anyone else. (Of course, that might change if a new project is approved – so don’t take it for granted.)
4. Estimating creates agreement and buy in
“Working with a team can often be a challenge, particularly when no one is in agreement on the project,” Brett writes. “Working together to produce an estimate can be a great way to pull the team together to talk about staffing, responsibilities, process, and timing. And guess what, that all helps produce a solid estimate.”
I covered this in my book too, Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World. I highly recommend that you share all your budget information with your team, from the moment you start to work on estimates through to the budget spreadsheet and forecast rates.
Working together will help you gain collective responsibility for the dates and scope of the work. You can hold each other accountable and no one can turn around and say that they weren’t aware of the deadlines or their responsibilities. That’s huge, especially on projects with tight deadlines and remote teams.
So, estimates benefit you and your team in lots of ways, and they are a part of your project to just get on with, get done and then start using. They can feel like the start of the real detailed work, the prelude to the fun part of building, but they help set you up for success and a smooth delivery. What do you feel about estimates? Let us know in the comments below!
Ask The Expert: Jack Appleman
In today’s installment of my occasional series interviewing experts in their field, I caught up with Jack Appleman. He’s a proponent of clarity and communication – and he wants people who write for business to just do it a bit better.
Being able to get your ideas across in writing is so important. Without that, you can’t convince, negotiate, delegate or engage your stakeholders. So, let’s dive in.
Hello Jack. What's the mistake you see most from people when it comes to business writing?
The two biggest mistakes are overwriting—conveying the same point multiple times with too many words—and inserting pseudo-sophisticated text in an attempt to impress the readers when most people want clear and straightforward language.
Yes, I see that in comms I get. Hopefully not in what I send out! What tip do you think would most benefit project managers writing about their projects at work, say, in an email or proposal?
Start with a paragraph that succinctly explains the bottom line because readers are increasingly impatient.
For example, begin a project proposal with a compelling paragraph that sums up the most important information and then provide required sections such as goals, required facilities, deliverables, etc. This offers readers a choice: Those who just want the top-line information can stop after the first paragraph while others who want more details can keep reading.
Many project managers get promoted from operational or technical jobs where everyone knows the jargon, to a job where people don't. How can people reframe what they know about technical writing into business writing for a wider audience?
Apply the same principles for both types of writing. Technical writing typically involves communicating instructions or information about technical issues or specific projects, which must be clear, succinct and well-organized—the same skills needed for business emails and other documents.
Often, technical documents are unnecessarily filled with jargon. When writing to a non-technical audience, either avoid the jargon or explain any term that readers may not understand.
OK, great. How can people develop their writing skills?
Use common sense when reviewing what you’ve written. Ask yourself, “Is this good? Would I be satisfied if I were reading it?”
Try to complete your first drafts faster so you can allot more time on the all-important editing phase. You should also consider taking a live or online business writing course or signing up for one-on-one writing coaching.
Effective business writing—for project managers and everyone—is about getting your message across in a clear, concise and well-organized way so the reader understands it and takes your desired action. It’s not any more complicated than that!
Much of what project managers do is computer-mediated communication, either email or instant messaging, or through a project management tool. What are the pitfalls of that and how can project managers get round them?
Today, virtually everyone communicates via email or text messages. Apply the same principles of effective writing regardless of the communication channel, and practice proper etiquette (e.g., complete sentences, no weird abbreviations and correct grammar).
Plus, recognize when the message is too complex or sensitive to send via instant messaging or a text.
Good advice, thank you! How can people find out more about you?
Jack E. Appleman, APR, CBC, business writing instructor and author of the top-selling 10 Steps to Successful Business Writing (2008, ATD Press), has developed innovative teaching methods to help working professionals achieve better results with their writing. The principal of Successful Business Writing, Jack has led workshops, webinars and coaching programs for organizations including HBO, Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Olympic Committee, which have consistently earned outstanding evaluations.
Here are 5 tips for better project procurement. To get more details on any of these tips, you can read this article.
Feel free to share!
How To Motivate Your Team
One of the issues I hear often is that project managers don’t have the resources to motivate and reward their teams. Well, I say that you can, if you focus on the right things. Achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and growth. You can provide those for your project team, can’t you? In this video I look at 5 ways to motivate your team in small ways, every day. I give you some tips for motivating your team (without having to pay bonuses).
3 Ways To Procure Without Competition
Yes, there is such a thing! Not all project procurement processes have to be a struggle for who comes out top and a hugely competitive bidding event. Here are 3 project processes where there isn’t an element of competition.
1. Use a Preferred Supplier
You probably know this already but you might not have considered it as a non-competitive procurement approach.
If you have a preferred supplier, say, for photocopiers, then you are going to get your next photocopier from them. This goes for recruitment agencies sourcing your next project team members, to the company you have worked with for years who always supplies your widgets.
Where a preferred arrangement exists, company policy may actively prevent you from seeking out competition.
The risk here is that you don’t take the time to look at other vendors. Just because your preferred print supplier was competitive a year ago doesn’t make it competitive today. Business models are changing in plenty of sectors. I usually get all my printing from Moo.com but this month I changed to a local print shop as (strangely) they were more competitively priced for the leaflets I needed. They were even kind enough to ask me to check again, as they said they weren’t normally competitively priced with online printers. But in this case, being able to deal with a real human, having a turnaround in 24 hours and not paying for postage really swung it for me.
Also, don’t assume that your past good experience with a supplier is always going to reflect their future performance. As well as their business model and pricing changing, a key change in support or service personnel could mean that the good relationship you had previously isn’t there any longer.
2. Joint Venture
You might come across this on large projects or at a business venture or product level.
A joint venture is where you are contractually in a partnership-type arrangement with another party to work together to provide a service. There’s an agreement in place that requires you to give the work to a particular company (and they, in turn may give you something).
3. Sole-Source Procurement
I hadn’t heard of this until I read Henrique Mora’s PMP® Exam prep guide where he covers the procurement management processes extensively. It’s a good read if you are preparing for the exam (I read the version that’s current for the 5th Edition).
Sole-source procurement is where the buyer chooses to get a product that is only provided by a single provider. Say, for example, you need a particular kind of roofing tile that is only made by one manufacturer. You’d buy it from them.
You could say this is the same for the vast majority of software too. If you want to buy a particular software tool that you think is right for your business, you can only get it from the vendor. You can’t buy Microsoft Office from Adobe, for example. (This is a poor example because so many large software vendors have a network of resellers where you do have choice about where to get it from. But it holds true for the majority of small/medium sized project management tools like the ones I review.) In healthcare tech many software products are linked to modalities or medical equipment – you have to get the one that ‘matches’.
“The main risks of conducting a sole-source procurement,” Moura writes, “concern the supplier’s economic feasibility and market conditions.”
You can include escrow in your contract if that’s appropriate, or other legal measures as a way of mitigating this if you think it’s worth it.
Benefits of Non-Competitive Procurement
I love the idea of non-competitive procurement.
Not having to sit in endless vendor presentations while the sales people tell you all the features of the product that you know won’t work when you start to get your hands on it.
Not having to prepare detailed business cases and financial models for products that you aren’t recommending, just to prove that you aren’t recommending them for the right reasons.
There are plenty of benefits including being able to get on with the work of your project more quickly because your team isn’t tied up in knots doing procurement activities.
However, there are drawbacks as well, not least because there’s an assumption that you are getting the best/right deal for your business. You might be, but if you have a feeling that actually you aren’t, it is worth talking to your manager or the PMO to see if there is flexibility to ditch the normal arrangements and go out to tender for this particular piece of work.
I’ve written before about treating the company’s money as if it is your own, and if you wouldn’t go ahead with the non-competitive procurement if it was your cash, then you’re right to question your own instincts here too.