Those Olympic estimates will not go away

The row about the cost of the 2012 Olympic Games goes on. Today a report by the Public Accounts Committee (click here for the full 40 page report) criticises the government for the escalating costs of the games.

Costs have risen from a bid price of just over £4 billion to a revised estimate (March 2008) of £9.325 billion! Now my guess is that the arguments around the true cost of the games will continue for many years up to and beyond the games themselves.

I am not going to try and argue which side is correct or who made big errors, if any have been made, I want to use this as an example of what can happen if your estimates are wrong – time, money or resources.

We work with many professional staff who in their words estimate poorly or use guestimates. So what can be done to ensure you have more accurate estimates?

*break it down – on our courses we stress the need to break down the overall project into manageable chunks. We encourage people to use work breakdown or product breakdown techniques. If you are going to put estimates against an activity the activity needs to be small enough to put an estimate against e.g. if you are carrying out all of the administration for a conference it is easier to estimate how long it will take to hire 4 projectors compared to organising the whole conference.

*who has the skills to provide you with the knowledge of what is involved in the project and how long each task will take. Use financial experts to help you identify the financial estimates.

*you are not alone – sometimes you are working on a project which someone within your organisation has worked on before. Ask them how long the project took. Ask them for the work breakdown; look at the cost estimates and actuals.

*documentation – the above point highlights the need for project documentation. Keep up to date records

*post project review and project meetings including lessons learned reports – these should include the level of accuracy of your estimates (of all your estimates – money, time, resources), what you have learned while working on the project. Share this information with others.

Make sure you spend more time estimating. Avoid the poor publicity or the consequences of spending too much money, delivering late with the wrong results.

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