5 Keys to Estimating Work for Technical Projects

Many projects, challenges, requests, and enhancements can often be interpreted as either very large projects, or very minuscule efforts. In most cases, it is closer to the elephant than the ant.  When you dig further into the details of any request, you often experience dependencies, unknowns, unexpected _(requirements)__, and conflicting priorities. Taking the time to set proper expectations on the front end will ensure that your client or stakeholder understands the time and effort required to deliver the results they desire. 

Estimating work for technical projects is never a perfect science, but it's better to have a plan than no plan.

Until the project's objectives and requirements are understood, you cannot appropriately estimate the effort required. Once this is achieved, you can start identifying and outlining each bucket of work. Group them into categories such as milestone-based, system-based, data vs. application, etc. This practice will help you create blocks of work (similar to a work breakdown structure for any PMPs out there) and allow a more detailed collection of estimates to develop a more accurate effort estimate for the overall project. After defining these buckets, you can dig deeper and deeper into the requirements, change specifications, and develop viable estimates.

Here is a simple 5 step strategy, which you can follow:

  1. Identify the technical buckets - Note every system impacted by the project - database(s), application(s), secondary applications, batch jobs, secondary database items (e.g., SSAS, SSRS, SSIS)
  2. Identify the non-technical buckets - Think through the documentation required (new or updated), necessary training, resource coordination with Project Management and Quality Assurance
  3. Identify your resources - Will you have 1 developer or 5, a dedicated QA person, analyst or developer who absorb this?  Identifying your resources will help you understand your capacity and what dependencies or conflicts you might have on resources.
  4. Identify competing priorities - What other organizational priorities will be competing with this effort? Think through the resources you will have to depend on to complete the project. Who is potentially tied up elsewhere?
  5. Identify any non-project-related delay points - Make sure to allow for stakeholder availability, company holidays, scheduled leaves, and vacations.

Once these items are documented, you should have all of the parts to start framing an overall work effort outline. We suggest using this as the first point of discussion with any project sponsors or stakeholders to ensure there is a consensus on the high-level understanding of effort and timing. If you can’t reach an agreement here, it should be a checkpoint about the reality and likelihood of moving forward. Once you are good to proceed, you have a framework to dive deeper into the project to further define the required effort and timing.

In the end, no project or effort can ever be estimated to the exact hour. However, with each project you plan and complete, your accuracy will improve.  A disciplined and analytical approach to estimating work can help you stand behind your plan with confidence. 

If you need help with planning the scope, budget, or resources for your project, one of our PMP™-certified Technical Project Managers will be happy to help you. 

Contact Us to have one of our PMP™-certified Technical Project Managers help you with your next project.

Share This: 

Related Articles