Project estimating; avoid the must answer now syndrome

I have frequently said that consultants should practice what they preach which is what I did recently.

During a meeting, I was asked by a client to commit to certain actions by certain dates “You can do this can’t you?” I clarified what was required and gave the following response: “I will need 24 hours to look at what is fully involved from our end and from yours and the resources we have to deliver.” True to my word they received an email well within the agreed timescale saying we could deliver against the agreed dates.

I hear you say; so what’s the big deal? Well, as a project manager how often have you been in a meeting when someone asks you for an estimate (money or cost) and there and then you give an answer. You give an answer without really looking at all of the issues; resources, what is on the existing plan, risks etc.

Sure you can answer straight away if you know all of the ramifications however, what project managers often tell me is that they often feel pressurised into giving an immediate answer; it is the expectation of senior managers, stakeholders or sometimes team members.

I tell them that saying no is not the right approach however….you can say no by saying something like I did. Give yourself some time to look at all of the issues. Maybe you need to view the request as a change which needs to go through the change management process. Whatever you do give your self some time that allows you to consider all of the issues and put realistic estimates together before return with your answer.

The other alternative is to give an answer that puts you in a situation you have created and which often turns out to be a project risk!


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4 Responses to Project estimating; avoid the must answer now syndrome

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Project estimating; avoid the must answer now syndrome | Ron Rosenhead's Project Management Blog [] on

  2. Actually there are two types of estimates you can make. One is a precise obligation to do something before a deadline passes. Making such kind of estimates is usually wrong, yet it’s not rare we have to deliver some kind of answer. Most of the time approach you describe works great, although I can recall a number of situations when I virtually had to shoot some value.

    The other kind is coarse-grain estimates you do when someone needs to find out whether a project is going to take 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years. Then even wild guesses can be justified.

  3. Ron, this is an excellent post. You are correct. It is the pressure that so often causes us to mistakenly estimate just about everything in our lives; we do it all the time! It’s just as damaging when handled too lightly or quickly when it comes to our projects.


  4. Pingback: Yes, You Can Quickly And Accurately Estimate Your Project | Project Management Tools That Work

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