Common Mistakes When Estimating Project Work - Part 2

Categories: Management Tips
 In Part 1, I identified what I considered to be 9 common mistakes that project managers and team members often make when estimating work on the projects they are leading or working on.   These 9 are:
  • Poor or incomplete requirements 
  • Pressure from management 
  • Not considering risks 
  • Too much optimism 
  • Omitting key information 
  • Miscommunication between estimator and implementer 
  • Estimate padding 
  • Not enough time 
  • Failure to ask the right person 
And for Part 1, we discussed the first four of these. For Part 2, we’ll examine the last five in more detail below…
Omitting key information. This isn’t really just a lack of detail – it’s the lack of elements that need to be estimated. Like the architect who designed a library and then wondered why every year the completed library was sinking a few inches. He forgot to account for the weight of the books. Omission can end up being catastrophic. Make sure you have all the details and have accounted for them in your estimate.

Miscommunication between estimator and implementer. This one merely means the estimator and work-implementer are not the same person and do not possess the same skills and experience. The estimate runs the risk of being way off the mark if the skills of the task performer are either overestimated or underestimated. It’s really best to involve the actual implementer in the estimating process whenever possible.
Estimate padding. The act of padding is when the individual providing the estimate (who is often also the person that will be performing the work) includes a fudge factor or safety range without your knowledge. This cushion is meant to ensure that he will meet his estimate or even beat it. It’s designed to make him look good, but it leaves you with an inaccurate estimate.

Not enough time. When pushed for an estimate on the spot it’s extremely difficult to provide something truly usable. A good estimate needs some thought and analysis. The danger is the request for a ballpark estimate that is later included in a final estimate that you are now held to. Beware.

Failure to ask the right person. Finally, it’s just plain good practice to include the actual programmer or implementer in the act of estimating their work. This is different from the miscommunication one above – that one is
considering that those two individuals are on different skill levels and there can be misunderstandings. Here I’m more concerned with the project manager who creates an entire change order of key work and presents it to the project client without ever involving his lead developer on the project. That’s a critical misstep and can lead to problems with price, the work, and possibly customer satisfaction. Involve the right people in the estimating process - that’s how you’re going to get your most accurate estimate. Handing down an estimate that they have no input to is a recipe for failure. Not only is it likely inaccurate, but the task performer may also resent being forced to adhere to an estimate of their work that they have no ownership of.

Over the course of these two articles, I’ve presented what I consider to be 9 key mistakes that project managers and team members often make when estimating project work. What has been your experience? What downfalls in estimating have you seen – or possibly caused yourself? Let’s discuss…. 

This is a guest post from Brad Egeland who is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 9, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at