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How to estimate projects more accurately?

Gaining insight into your team’s effectiveness and choosing the right estimation technique.

 

Estimating projects is hard. It is because people have the tendency to underestimate the time things take, especially in professional terms. It may be the result of the so-called over-optimism, but equally often it happens due to the fact that projects are dynamic and business circumstances tend to be ever-changing. As with everything we do, we also have to take the “human risk factor” into account. But if you and your team do not want to spend the rest of your life being late on deadlines, you have to start estimating projects you are about to deal with.

Why do we estimate?

The answer is simple: it’s the only way to assume about the project’s timeline, budget and workload needed. Even though you cannot predict the future, the estimation is essential for your successful project management. When you are estimating the project, you can find out how long it will take, what resources you will need, and what team members it is better to choose.

Of course, the more complex a project is, the more blurred the future. Wrong estimates mean missing deadlines and breaking budgets—two of the main symptoms of project failure.

How to estimate a project?

When starting a new project,  you should know first of all how long it is going to take and how much it is going to cost. To know the possible timeline and budget, you have to estimate correctly the projects you’re about to start.

There is a great number of techniques you can use to estimate your project. Remember that all estimations depend on a number of factors, including your own experience, the resources available, and people working on a project. No matter which technique you use, make sure the results you get are realistic given the nature of your project.

You can use techniques that help you estimate with the maximum accuracy possible.

Take a look at some trusted ideas that work for all types of projects.

Asking an expert

This is probably the most common way you get an estimate. Talk to people with the best hands-on experience and understanding of the project requirements. Such expertise may be provided by any group or person with proper education, knowledge, skills, experience or training – it can be a team leader as well as a member of the project team.

Doubling estimations

Unable to predict future project timeline? Follow the old saying: ”Take your worst estimate and double it”. This is simply what this technique is about. Make your best estimation for how long this project will take, and then double it. If you estimate it’ll take you 3 working days to fix major bugs in the software, double that to 6 days.

It is always better to complete the project ahead of time and under budget than the other way round, isn’t it?

Analogous estimating

his technique is also known as top-down estimating. It determines the duration of the project.

It is to be used when detailed information about the project is not available, usually during the early stages. However, if there are similar activities from previous projects that have been completed, new activities are estimated based on the actual values from your previous work. In analogous estimation techniques, the overall project is estimated first, then the individual tasks.

If your current project is similar to past ones, take the data from previous work and try to provide estimates for the new one. Remember to check whether those projects were successful!

Parametric model estimating

It’s very similar to analogous estimation. However, it’s more accurate as the whole work in a project is divided into measurable parts. Some people consider it to be one of the most accurate methods to determine the cost and duration of a project.

Note!

The project estimate is used in cases when there is not much documentation or information. To make estimates, a similar project or projects are taken from the past. How to get the data relating to past projects? There are several ways to track the time spent on a project. One of them is  Worklogs - Time Tracking and Report, where you can track the time spent by your team on particular projects. If you want to provide an accurate timeline for your new project to come, use Worklogs and check a total time logged to a similar piece of work from the past. The app allows you to generate worklogs for the whole team, and group logged hours daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly. Armed with such valuable knowledge on your team’s efficiency, you will be less likely to deliver wrong estimations, and as a result, more likely to succeed in your new projects.

Worklogs- Time Reports for Jira Changes.gif

Bottom-up

Bottom-up is the opposite of Top-down/Analogous Estimating. This method requires more time to estimate, but it gives the most accurate results. It uses a detailed work breakdown structure: a project or a task is broken into smaller parts until it gets possible to estimate each of them.

PERT

PERT is a three-point estimating technique that considers estimation uncertainty and risk. It can be used for time and cost estimates. In PERT analysis estimation technique, the following three estimates are used:

  • Most likely (M) – based on a realistic assessment for the required work and predicted expenses.
  • Optimistic(O) – based on an analysis of the best-case scenario for the project.
  • Pessimistic(P) – based on an analysis of the worst-case scenario for the project.

The PERT estimate is calculated as (O + 4M + P)/6. In this way, the most-likely estimate is counted 4 times in comparison with the other two estimates (optimistic and pessimistic).

The PERT technique gives you better data because of the risks that are taken into account. You learn about the risks of a task early in the process and that knowledge gives you the opportunity to take proper actions before you start working on the project.

Planning Poker

It’s an estimation and planning technique where project team members act as participants in a game of cards. Make sure that all team members give their estimates without consulting each other. Afterward, there is time for discussion. All the team members should explain reasons for their predictions, starting with the ones who threw in either the highest and lowest estimates. After the explanation, everyone should join the discussion and share their thoughts for their choices. Repeat the estimation voting and discussion until you reach an equal estimation of the time effort. Planning Poker can be used with any estimating unit, including story points.

Using story points for estimating

A lot of Agile teams use Jira Software daily to plan, estimate, and track the progress of their projects.  Jira provides the flexibility to set your estimation and tracking statistics differently, depending on your team’s needs. Thanks to JIRA reports you can see the original, and current time estimates for all the issues, and whether they are ahead or behind the original schedule. For the purpose of having insight into your team effectiveness, you can also extend Jira with very useful apps available on Marketplace, for example, Agile Dashboard for Project Management, which allows you to get instant reliability metrics to figure out how well the team is doing at keeping the estimates.

Advanced Team Dashboard- Team Reliability and changes over time.gif

Some teams tend to estimate the amount of time a project in hours. But this approach can result in exceeding costs and missing deadlines. In order to begin working smarter and more efficiently, it is much better to estimate future projects in story points.

 

A story point is a metric used in agile project management and development to represent the effort needed to develop a story. Using story points, a team can estimate:

  • The amount of work to do
  • Risks and uncertainty
  • Complexity

The Story Points technique uses data to compare features of one project to features of a previous similar project to generate a precise estimate. Story points closed are also one of the metrics supported by many Jira apps, available to download from Marketplace. One of the supporting Story Points techniques apps is Team Performance Reports and Insights. Story Points Closed is a measure that sums story points in tickets that have been closed. You can look at both individual team members as well as whole teams in order to compare their key metrics such as keeping on track with estimates.

Whatever estimation technique you use, it’s important to deliver correct estimates for your project is to be successful. Correct project planning details and reducing potential risks seems to be the key. With proper tools, you can see how things have looked in all in your projects until now.

 

I'm SolDevelo's Team member.

This article has been prepared by the SolDevelo team and is also available on our blog.

More info about the Worklogs features on its the website: https://jiraworklogs.com/

3 comments

Thanks! This is a helpful place to start.

Like # people like this

I'm really glad that the article could help you!

Have a nice day.

Thanks for you post :)

I believe sometimes it's useful to clarify the perspective on estimations as described in this post:

https://medium.com/@miziodel/how-to-survive-the-promised-estimation-and-leverage-the-estimation-process-happily-21aae58e443c

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