If you know how long your tasks will take, you can build a great project schedule. That lets you manage the expectations of your team because you can tell everyone when the work will be done (and that’s what they really want to know).
You get a great project schedule by working out how long each individual task will take and then adding them all together for the overall picture. Estimating each task can be a tricky business, so here are 5 tips for estimating project tasks to give you a head start.
#1. Get the Task Duration Right
Go short. Tasks should be as long as you need but as short as possible. Confusing, right?
It’s impossible to track the status of a project when you only have big buckets of time to look at. If you know your project is going to take 3 months then you don’t want to wait until nearly the end before someone tells you that their parts aren’t going to be done on time. That’s why we break projects into smaller sections, so it’s easier to track how they are going. It’s also a lot easier to get the project back on track when you are only a few days out from the task at hand rather than a few weeks (or longer).
A good rule of thumb is to keep your tasks between half a day and 4 weeks in duration. Ask your subject matter experts for advice if you think any of your tasks are too long.
Pro-Tip: Read more about choosing the right duration for your project tasks: How to Schedule Different Tasks
Task management is not micro-management, so when it comes to following up with your team, don’t worry about challenging them on their estimates. You aren’t commenting on their ability to do the job, or nagging. As long as you aren’t constantly watching over their shoulder or calling them every half an hour for an update, you aren’t straying into the territory of micro-managing.
Your task estimates are at a low level because it makes it easy for them and for you. They’ll be expecting you to follow up on how they are doing.
Pro Tip: Check in with your subject matter experts at least once a week to find out how their work is progressing. Make it a regular time but an informal chat.
#3. Estimate for Your Resources
Different people will take differing lengths of time to complete their work. They have different levels of skill, experience and confidence and that affects how they approach their work.
Consider this when estimating. A less experienced member of the team will take longer to complete work than someone who has done it several times before. Equally, an experienced member of the team will take longer when they are training a new member of the team instead of working alone.
Pro Tip: Work generally goes faster when your best people are working on tasks they know and understand. Save time on your project by using experienced resources and save on-the-job learning and mentoring for another time.
#4. Break out Big Tasks
When a task looks like it has loads of different steps and will take a long time to do, it’s time to review whether it’s really a task at all. Is it a mini-project? Many projects are comprised of several small projects that have to be in place before the bigger picture comes together.
It’s okay to chunk work together and pull that piece out completely. Hand it off to someone else to manage or get it done first. Then when your project needs whatever it is, it will be done or in hand.
Pro Tip: Taking out chunks of work like this and making them into standalone mini projects also takes out some of the complexity and risk from your project. As that pat will already be done you can manage the main project more effectively and you’ll have a better idea of how it will go.
#5. Factor in Tools
The more tools you have to make the job easy, the less time it will take. As long as people know how to use those tools.
For example, the first time you use a new process for managing changes might take you and the team some time. But next time you are facing a change to the project you’ll know exactly what to do. You’ll get faster and slicker every time you do it and overall that will save you time on the project.
If you have a full suite of project management tools to help you monitor and control your projects then that will save you time on individual tasks. Take that into account when you estimate, and find time to schedule in some training if your team don’t have confidence in how to use the software or processes.
Pro Tip: An easy-to-use online project management tool suite will let your team access the information they need to manage their tasks from anywhere.
Take it further. In this video, Devin Deen explores the next step in managing tasks by demonstrating ways to help your team prioritize those tasks.
There’s no doubting that good tools make for good project management. They take some of the stress out of managing projects as you know the basics are covered. ProjectManager.com looks after your schedule, task list and resource allocation for you as well as handling risks, issues and reporting. Save yourself time and give it a try today.