Estimating project resources, such as staff, equipment, software, materials, and even workstations, is crucial in achieving success in your project work. And it can also be the riskiest part of your project work since underestimating the resources you need, more often than not, can translate into schedule delays and going over budget by not having the right resources and/or the sufficient amount. Therefore, it is important to execute this process as efficiently as possible since the resources estimation will set and impact the project’s three key baselines: scope, schedule, and budget.
Estimating resources effectively is an art that can be learned with proper training, experience, and available data. However, for new project managers and/or start-ups, the experience and organizational process assets, such as lessons learned, estimates from previous projects, and experienced staff, may not be readily available.
There are several options you can follow to get accurate estimating. For example, let’s assume that you are trying to estimate the time and cost needed to create a dashboard for an external client. The estimating process could employ the following approach:
- Start with one Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) package, such as documentation, and break this down further by features, such as:
- Text: the instructions needed to use, monitor, and troubleshoot the dashboard.
- Graphics: determine, in general terms, the number of images required to aid the user to work with the dashboard effectively and efficiently.
- Select the resources required to prepare the text and images noted above. For example:
- Human resources: one or two staff members working full time over a specific amount of time. Also, determine whether staff are highly efficient in executing the work or needing training or time to learn the system.
- Specific software required, such as imaging or photoshop programs.
- Devices needed, such as tablets, laptops, and PCs, you may already have or need to acquire.
- Review your estimates with staff, a colleague, a supervisor, or even a friend, if there are no confidentiality issues, to acquire a second reality check. Obviously, the people you ask to review your work must have experience in this area.
In the cases where you are mostly alone in your estimating efforts, because you are a freelancer and just starting, or you are delving into a new facet of your industry for the first time, you can access the following sources and assets:
- Cost estimating software: depending on your industry, there is software available that provides materials and equipment costs and the time it takes staff to execute a particular task or activity.
- Independent consultants: there are firms worldwide that can either prepare a complete estimate based on a detailed scope provided by you and/or act as consultants to help you prepare the estimate internally.
- Professional and industry organizations: many organizations provide mentorship, consulting, and even training to their members in all areas of project management, including estimation. For example, your local PMI chapter may offer these services, or you can inquire within the group to seek out advice.
Regardless of how you undertake the estimation processes, it would be best to do as thorough a job as possible since it is based on how well the project will succeed. As we all know, going over budget and missing deadlines are among the most common causes associated with the project. And both of these causes originate from either underestimating the time and/or resources required and not properly monitoring and controlling scope creep, which is also impacted by poor planning and estimating.