How To Estimate Time For A Project

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Whether you bill clients hourly or on a per project basis, a necessary step of all projects is estimating the time it will take. Not only does the client want to have an idea of how much money they will be spending, but they also need to plan around an estimated timeline. And you need to be able to ensure you have the time and resources necessary to complete the project. Depending on a number of factors, including how much experience you have with the type of work you’re doing, if you are using subcontractors, and the information you have from the client, estimating the time for a project can be difficult. Here is the process I use when scoping the time commitment for a new project. Identify Deliverables The first step is to identify the main project (i.e. Website Redesign), and then pinpoint the specific deliverables associated with the project. For example, upon completion of the redesign, you will be providing the client with a newly designed website by FTPing the site files and sending the client a CD or USB drive with the working files. Break It Down Next, I take the project and break it down into simple tasks separated by component – the more specific the better – that will get us to the deliverables. Here is an example of what the tasks may look like: Project Planning
  • Initial meeting with client to gauge scope of project
  • Provide client with project information sheet to get more information about what they like/don’t like about their existing site
  • Review/analyze existing site and client form
  • Develop list of areas site changes to be made
  • Get approval from client
  • Design site mockup
  • Get approval from client
  • Code pages
  • Create new navigation
  • Reorganize content into new pages
  • Optimize for SEs
  • Cross-browser testing
  • Validate code
  • Check links
  • Test forms
Add It Up The next step is to estimate time for each task, rounding up. If you are using subcontractors, you will need to get their time estimates first and work them into your time. Then take the total time for all of the tasks and add in a buffer. The buffer can be anything, although I usually stick with a 10-25% addition. This allows for any unexpected situations or challenges that arise. Things to Keep in Mind The more time estimates you do, the more accurate you will be. As you create your own formula, some other factors you may want to consider include:
  • Project management time
  • Time to review work of subcontractors
  • Holidays or days off that occur during the project
  • Client turnaround time
  • Debugging
How do you ensure your time estimates are as accurate as possible? Image credit: Federico Belloli

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Project Time Estimation

What are some common mistakes to avoid when estimating project time?

One common mistake is underestimating the complexity of the project. This can lead to unrealistic timelines and missed deadlines. Another mistake is not factoring in time for unexpected issues or changes in the project scope. It’s also important to avoid relying solely on past experiences, as each project is unique and may require different resources and timeframes.

How can I improve my time estimation skills?

Improving time estimation skills often comes with experience. However, you can also improve by using project management tools, learning from past projects, and seeking advice from experienced project managers. Regularly reviewing and adjusting your estimates as the project progresses can also help improve your accuracy.

How do I account for unexpected issues in my time estimate?

It’s always wise to include a buffer in your time estimate to account for unexpected issues. This could be a percentage of the total project time or a set number of days or weeks. The size of the buffer will depend on the complexity and size of the project, as well as the level of uncertainty.

How do I estimate time for a project I’ve never done before?

When estimating time for a new type of project, it can be helpful to break the project down into smaller tasks and estimate the time for each task. You can also seek advice from others who have completed similar projects. Remember to include a buffer for unexpected issues and learning curves.

What tools can help me with time estimation?

There are many project management tools that can assist with time estimation. These tools can help you break down the project into tasks, assign resources, and track progress. Some popular options include Microsoft Project, Trello, and Asana.

How do I adjust my time estimate during the project?

If you find that your initial estimate was off, it’s important to adjust your timeline as soon as possible. Review the project tasks, identify where the delays are occurring, and adjust your estimates accordingly. Communicate these changes to all stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page.

How do I estimate time for complex projects?

For complex projects, it’s often helpful to use a method called the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). This involves breaking down the project into smaller, manageable tasks and estimating the time for each task. This can help ensure that all aspects of the project are considered in the time estimate.

How do I factor in team availability when estimating project time?

When estimating project time, it’s important to consider the availability of your team members. This includes their work hours, other project commitments, and vacation time. You may need to adjust your timeline or resources based on their availability.

How do I handle changes in project scope when estimating time?

Changes in project scope can significantly impact your time estimate. If the scope changes, review the new tasks and adjust your estimate accordingly. It’s also important to communicate these changes to all stakeholders.

How do I estimate time for projects with multiple teams?

When working with multiple teams, it’s important to coordinate and communicate effectively. Each team should estimate the time for their tasks, and these estimates should be combined to create the overall project timeline. Regular check-ins can help ensure that all teams are on track and any delays are addressed promptly.

Alyssa GregoryAlyssa Gregory
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Alyssa Gregory is a digital and content marketer, small business consultant, and the founder of the Small Business Bonfire — a social, educational and collaborative community for entrepreneurs.

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