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If you’re a blogger who works with a team on projects, such as for a website redesign or enhancement, you may often find that your task estimates are way off – you’re not alone. Studies have shown that most people are terrible at estimating the amount of time that it takes to do something. But there are ways that teams can improve their task estimates. Here are a few tips.

First, Break the Task Down Into Its Primary Components

How long does it take to shop for groceries? You might say “about an hour.” But then break it down into individual components, and you might get a different answer: it takes 20 minutes to drive there, 30 minutes to shop, 10 minutes to get through the checkout, and 20 minutes to get back. That’s an hour and 20 minutes!

Breaking a task down gives you a more accurate picture of how long everything takes. It’s the same with project costing. You don’t always know how much something is going to cost until you’ve broken it down into component parts.

Take a Look at How You’ve Performed in the Past

Everyone wants to assume that they’re going to do a task in an ideal amount of time, but that isn’t always true. Going back to the

Improving Team Estimates - Rich Butkevic, PMP, CSM

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grocery store analogy, looking back at your previous behaviors might mean that you take 3 hours to do the grocery shopping. That’s a huge amount of time. What’s the difference? Well, maybe there’s always traffic when you go shopping. Maybe it just takes you longer to shop than you think.

Looking back at past task performance usually reveals issues and risk factors that people tend to assume isn’t going to happen. Bug crushing in software development, for instance, usually takes far longer than people think that it will.

Get Your Team On-Board

Reach out to your team when preparing estimates. If they’re doing the work, they know how long it will take to get it done. Pay attention to the estimates that your team members provide and make a note regarding how accurate they tend to be. One of the major issues with estimating a team-based project is that there are often inconsistent results from team member to team member.

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Leave Yourself a Buffer

It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Leave yourself a small amount of buffer so you can compensate for anything unexpected that comes up. While you don’t want to state that a task is going to take you tremendously long (especially if it’s fairly trivial), you should aim to undershoot rather than overshoot your mark.

Consider a 3 Point Estimate

This is a little complicated but here’s how it works. You take your best case, your worst case, and your most likely estimate. Then you use the following algorithm:

(Best + Worst + (4 * Most Likely)) / 6

This means that your most likely estimation is included 4 times, but your best and worst estimates are only included once each. Let’s go back to grocery shopping. You now know that your most likely is 80 minutes, but your best case scenario is 60 minutes. And if the traffic is really, really bad, you can imagine it taking you up to 100 minutes.

(60 + 100 + (4 * 80)) / 6 = 80

So even though your best and worst times diverge, you can still estimate that the project is probably going to take about 80 minutes.

Be Consistent About Your Estimates

Regardless of how you’re estimating your tasks, you should be consistent. All your tasks should be estimated in the same way. You’ll be able to see easily whether your task estimates need to be adjusted across the board, or whether there are certain tasks that always seem to take you a little longer than they should.

Task estimation is incredibly important, but people do get better at it the more experience they have. If your team is currently faltering in their project estimates, it’s likely that you just need to create more rigid processes regarding how these estimates are derived. Over time, you’ll be able to narrow down to the issues holding your accuracy back.

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