Having a solid grasp of time estimation is an important part of successful project management. By picking the right method, you can make sure your estimates are accurate, and therefore of greater value to you and your team. Time estimation is the art of accurately ‘guessing’ how long a piece of work will take to be completed – using time estimation techniques can allow you to reduce the guesswork involved in your estimates and let you have more confidence surrounding your time management and the time frame your work can be completed in. So, let’s look at how to estimate hours for a project using a variety of different methods.
Why is Time Estimation Important?
Accurate time estimation is hugely important to managing your project: knowing how long you can expect a given aspect of your work to take will allow you to plan and organise yourself much more effectively for the duration of your project –which, as we all know, will have a large impact on the project’s success. While your estimates won’t be totally spot on, using the right method will improve your accuracy, and knowledge or experience of the type of work you will be doing will also help in improving accuracy.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to always be gathering the relevant data to help you get a solid idea of the general time periods a particular task will take – project time tracking is more useful that just recording for billing purposes! The data you gather will help you regardless of which time estimation method you use – over a number of projects you will find your estimates becoming more and more accurate.
5 Time Estimation Methods
1. Use Historical Data
It’s hard to find something these days which hasn’t been done before. The same holds true for most projects – it’s highly unlikely that what you are trying to do is a brand new, never seen before concept. But this is helpful! Because it’s been done before, there is historical data available to aid you in your estimates for what you will need to accomplish. By using the experiences of other projects that have been done before yours, you can drastically improve the accuracy of your time estimates, and therefore extract greater value from the process.
2. Use Time Tracking Software
Project management time keeping is a useful aid to making your time estimates. An accurate time tracking app will do more than just record your time. Rather, it will provide you with a powerful reporting tool which will let you utilize your time tracking data in order to better inform you about how long a given task takes to complete, which in turn will make your time estimates more accurate.
Furthermore, time tracking will allow you to measure your progress through a given task against your time estimates, allowing you to keep your project on track by managing your time more efficiently against your targets. You will quickly find yourself using your time more effectively and gaining a better understanding of how you can save time that may be going to waste at the moment.
Ultimately, time tracking software is a tool which helps make your workflow more efficient –your time estimates will be more accurate and you will find yourself beating the clock more often!
3. Bottom-up Method
The main idea here is to break the broad scope of the project into smaller tasks which we are able to create a more accurate estimate for, then base our estimate for the project as a whole on the combination of these smaller estimates. This method may be best used when you do not have enough historical data available to make educated estimates for the project as a whole. It should be noted that the margin of error for your smaller estimates will add up to affect the accuracy of your broader estimate, making it somewhat less reliable.
4. Top-down Method
This is basically the opposite of the bottom-up method: estimating on the broad scale of the project (then perhaps assigning portions of that estimate to each given task).The value here in this method is that it can be more accurate than the bottom-up method, but only when you have enough information and experience to make your estimates very well educated. The best scenario in which to use this method might be one in which you have access to a tremendous amount of prior experience on which to make your estimate.
5. Expert Judgement
Making use of the expertise of others in an area where you lack knowledge is just good business. After all, none of us can be an expert in everything. When it comes to time estimates, using the experience and knowledge of an expert to help in making your estimates has added benefits as the expert you consult will likely have valuable advice for the project as a whole, and maybe be able to uncover issues which have plagued similar projects in the past. Making use of an expert is never a bad idea if you can afford it: even if you have the knowledge yourself, a second opinion won’t hurt anything.