12 elements of estimating work

I am definitely going to take a course on time management… just as soon as I can work it into my schedule.
~ Louis E. Boone

Your personal ability to estimate work effort is directly related to your level of stress – and success! This is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years as an employee and now as an entrepreneur.

When estimating your personal work effort, whether for a project, or just as part of your daily time management approach, consider the following 12 elements:

1. Clearly Defined Task. Make sure you understand the requirements of the task at hand. If it is for a client, boss, or team-mate, make sure you get the qualitative and quantitative criteria. For example, if you are giving a presentation: What is the allotted time? How much detail should it provide? What is the expected outcome? If you are writing a report or article: What is the topic? what is the required length? Are references and resources required?

2. Experience. Consider your personal experience with this task. If you have done it before, you should be able to estimate your time more accurately (thought not always!). Also, if you have never done the task before, you may take longer to complete it just because you will be checking, verifying, and thinking more.

3. Optimism Factor. We all want to believe we are efficient in our work, but the reality is we often estimate our efforts too low. Just because it takes you 7 minutes to complete that customer call, does not mean you can steadily answer 68 calls in an 8 hour day. It’s not reasonable. Be realistic. The other factors will help you to do so, but keep in mind your history in estimating work effort and how accurate you have been in the past.

How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time.~Fred Brooks

4. Task Complexity. The more complex the task, the higher the risk of your estimate being wrong. It’s simply the fact that the more complex it is, the more there is that can go wrong – or there is more unpredictability and often inter-dependability.

5. Creativity. How much creativity is required in the task? Creativity requires more time as it is not an ‘on-demand’ skill (at least not for me!). You may schedule 8am thru 11 am to write that article, but if your creative juices are not flowing – it may take longer. Allow for creativity to flow freely.

6. Thinking time. Depending on the complexity, the requirements, and your experience level you’ll need to consider thinking time. I can’t tell you how many times someone has ‘caught’ me sitting at my desk starring out the window – accusing me of daydreaming! The reality is I was thinking – and this is productive time!. What do you need to think about? How you will approach the task, the purpose, what is important to include or not, any number of things.

7. Waiting time. Project managers are well versed at this, but often in our personal productivity planning we don’t capture time we wait for: responses to requests, answers to questions; reviews of draft work and so on. Consider this in conjunction with your client / boss as well as with the next element.

8. Collaboration. Often an enhancement to quality and quantity of work, sometimes it can add time since you will need to coordinate schedules and add waiting time for the various pieces of your project to be completed.

9. Task size. The size of the individual tasks that make up the work at hand impact our ability to estimate their completion time. I recommend making the tasks small…no smaller…smallest! I’ve been known to break a task down to 15 minute intervals. That may be unrealistic for a large project, but at the individual level it is a reasonable approach. It also is the secret to staying focused and motivated in getting the work done. If you can do just 15 minutes at a time – the project will be done in no time!

10. Assumptions. When providing a work estimate to a boss or client, it is critical to list the assumptions you’ve made. If any of the assumptions are not true or change through the course of the project, your estimate will change as well.

11. Rework. Include rework time in your estimate. Chances are your boss or client will have some ‘tweaks’ to make.

12. Contingency time. This is a catch all for anything you did not think to include. I’ll add about 10% to the total estimate for this just as a ‘cushion.’ It has come in handy especially during tornado season when the power goes out or I’m too focused on watching the sky or hiding in the closet to get work done!

Next week there can’t be any crisis. My schedule is already full.~Henry A. Kissinger