Project Optimism

I watched one of the many property programmes we have here on UK television recently. The scene was set at the property auction. Soon the bidding started on the featured 3 bedroom property. The hammer went down and the next scene showed the interviewer with the beaming successful purchaser.

“What are you going to do to this property” the buyer was asked.

“I’m going to strip out everything internal and make it a really great property which I will rent it out.”

“How long will this take and how much have you budgeted for doing this?” Ten weeks was the quick reply and he gave his estimates of costs and agreed that he was happy for the TV programme to follow the overall development of the property.

Go forward 5 weeks, half way through the development and there are ‘one or two problems’. Eventually, after 22 weeks it was finished and the budget over- ran by nearly 50%.

This scene is all too familiar in this type of programme and all too familiar with projects we have seen. Unrealistic estimates of cost and time put pressure on all involved and raise expectations of stakeholders.

What can be done? How can some realism be brought back into project estimates?

• make projects smaller! Break the project into a series of stages and the stages into a series of activities which have been really broken down

• lessons learned – this is a useful tool for reviewing among other things the accuracy of estimates once tasks have been delivered

• hold a data bank of actuals v estimates of activities. This can help enormously to get project staff to think through which estimates to use

• ensure estimating skills are included in any project management training course. Feedback on Project Agency courses suggests that participants have really seen the benefits of project management with training on estimates.

• senior managers:

 do not give out end dates for delivery of a project or a project budget unless you have a thoroughly worked plan.

 if you have to set a deadline (say for legal reasons or links with other projects) then do ensure that the project team has the right resources to deliver effectively

These are some of the things that can be done. What is your view on how we can make estimates more accurately?

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