How to make resources provide better estimates?Muhammad Zeeshan Ali, PMP, PMI-ACP
The most common issue that causes the delays, in the project schedule, is the variation of actual effort from the original estimates. It is not necessarily always the fault of the team or team member, who has provided the estimate. Rather most of the time it is the issue of elaboration of scope at the time of estimation, changes in requirement, miscalculation regarding the assumptions at the time of estimation etc. Similarly risk identification and management plays vital roles in better estimates.
Expert Judgment is the most commonly used estimation technique due to its short time requirement factor. It is an agreed fact that Expert Judgment improves with experience. This is the reason, we find teams providing better estimates, with every next iteration and also with that some historic data is built up to back up the numbers.
Generally the resources don’t miscalculate estimates on purpose. Apart from inexperience, they might lack a few basic elements involved in the estimation process. It is a Project Manager / PMO job to ensure the presence of those elements (tools or processes) during the estimation process so that the resources can provide better estimates.
The foremost thing is to provide resources transparency over the proceedings. Apart from the financial aspects of the project, it is not difficult to share the rest of the information with the team. Other than building a better understanding of the scope of the project, the team is also able to understand the importance of each module from the customer perspective. This helps the team to set much more realistic, long term and short term, expectations.
The team empowerment also plays an important role in providing better estimates. Once the resources are made to make their decisions themselves in a collective manner and they are provided with all necessary support, then they will work in a totally different manner. They are working in the shoes of the Product Owner and are able to factor in all the challenges and targets related to it.
A good Project Manager always empowers his team and this brings in responsibility among the team members. The good thing for resources in having the responsibility is that they can feel the pain of the customer and when they will provide the estimates, they will own the responsibility of its fulfilment. What this does is that in case there are any spikes, the team makes changes and arrangements, among themselves, to ensure they complete their commitment.
Similarly, another important factor a Project Manager has to ensure is accountability. Once a team has been empowered and gives the responsibility of the estimates, then the accountability part is equally important. Accountability is not with the aim to penalize resources for providing wrong estimates or not being able to achieve the committed timelines. Accountability has two aspects; first is that there is unfulfilled commitment, the reasons and responsible persons are highlighted in order to learn from mistakes and avoid them in future. Second aspect is that the achievements should be highlighted and celebrated. Even a small acknowledgement, for the job well done, can do wonders for raising the confidence of the resources.
Another factor which I have also discussed in my article “Courage and Respect”, that as a team you should be able to learn that you will often make mistakes but as long as you are learning from your mistakes, they will always prove useful.
As discussed earlier, the estimates also improve with experience, therefore it is always a very good concept for a Project Manager to delegate work and responsibilities to other team members. This practice will help resources to gain experience much earlier than the normal learning curve.
Similarly it is a good idea to build a team through a team development plan. This plan will include training and other team building activities to help them gain the professional skill sets.