The timeline of a project can be a long affair subject to all manner of unforeseen influences that can throw it unexpectedly off track resulting in time creep. Here are some handy tips to help help with time estimation and ensure you work with and not against the clock:
Use the past as a guide for time estimation
Even if you only have a few projects under your belt, you will still have gained a sense of how long similar activities have taken so the first thing to do is take a trip down memory lane. You don’t have to make exact replicas – just bear in mind how long preparation can take including relevant factors such as lead times etc. Simply being mindful of the past can make all the difference to time estimation in the present.
Identify time dependent stages
When planning the schedule of a project there will be things that are time dependent and things that can be done in their own time. For example, a vital stage of the project, on which other tasks are dependent, will need to be completed before the next phase can occur will. This will certainly fall into the time dependent category, but other activities may not if they are standalone tasks. The obvious answer is to create the framework of the project around the time dependent factors and fit in the rest where appropriate.
So, you may have planned the framework of a project and taken your past endeavours into account, but you will still need to keep an eye on the clock to verify your time estimations are indeed correct. You may need to experiment with methods, but suggestions could include tracking the time spent on weekly meetings, office banter and Google for instance enabling you to take note of unnecessary communication, procrastination and other time stealers!
Break down the details
You may estimate that a time dependent stage of a project will take exactly one week but you need to question this further due to the many small steps that will need to be completed within this one stage. Breaking each phase down into its consummate parts will give you a better idea of just how much time you will need to add together to give you your overall answer.
Make room for extra time
Remember that your project management skills need to involve accurate time estimation because even with all the effective planning in the world; no project manager can escape the outside influences that threaten an otherwise well planned schedule. In instances such as these, all you can do is be agile and adapt to the changing circumstances but having a buffer of time will also provide you with that necessary window in order for you to do this. Estimating time accurately but always adding on a little bit more will be a life (and project) saver; providing the saving grace to keep your sanity and deadlines intact.