Costing a project

Is your team able to accurately estimate work?

Invest in Your Mind written on the roadIf not, here are four common things you can evaluate:

  1. Are they given enough time for the estimate?
  2. Do they know the work well enough?
  3. Are there punishments achievement?
  4. Do processes “bottle-neck” up or downstream?

Too little time / too early to tell? The first issue in estimating is asking for an estimate too early in the project. There are simply too many unknowns. Are the requirements stable? Do the resources have the skills needed? Do we have an agreement in place? The answers to these questions impact the quality of your team’s estimates. Academically, we are taught that a team can’t estimate work until they have had time to evaluate the work, ideally in the form of Work Breakdown Structures and detailed Scope Statements. But, how often do you have those documents in-hand? Factor in more time to do the estimating.

Does the team know the work well enough? Pulling historical data for the estimates is a good start but do the team members each know the work they are expected to deliver? You may need to schedule half a day for the team to get together and share what they need to learn about the project work to be better able to define what needs to get done and base their estimates on this work. When’s the last time you had a “gap analysis” workshop with your team?

Punished performance? When people are punished for being late, they will typically pad their next estimate. “Fool me once …” But are we also punishing people for being successful at their work? Are estimates shortened based on past history? We know that Amy is twice as fast as Arnold so we give Amy 1/2 the time to do the work and assign her twice as many tasks. Amy, after all, is career-minded and we want her to be highly promotable. But, have we checked in with Amy to ensure this is what Amy wants?

Choked work at a bottle-neck? Looking at the work from a more holistic stand-point, where do its inputs come from and where do its products go? We might find that our portion of the work is stalled or delayed by up and down-stream work. We might also find that work is hindered by a shortage of materials, a person that isn’t responsive or other issues. By identifying and removing these bottle-necks, you’ll find performance (and morale) gains.


I’ve surely left out many strategies that have worked for you. What have you found effective in increasing the accuracy of your cost estimates? Drop me a note here or at You are great! Keep doing your good work.

About Gordon Young

Need 10's of millions? Start here. Keynote speaker, coach and instructor. I help companies tap into the creativity and energy of their teams resulting in profit, engagement and well-being.
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