How long will it take?

The clock is tickingImagine you are in a meeting and discussion is taking place about a possible project. No business case has been developed nor has there been any analysis of project risks. Its very early days in the “life” of this project.

Then, a question, directed at you, which you have to answer.

“How long will it take and how much will it cost?”

What would you do in this situation?

My advice is; do not answer the question. Difficult? Yes it is but something you can and should learn to do.

Don’t forget, this is not yet a project and you are already being asked for costs and time scales!

Here is an example of a real live situation that inspired this post. I was carrying out some telephone interviews with managers in a Primary Care Trust. During one interview one of the people mentioned that that he had 4 projects to set up during the year. I wrongly asked that question!! How long will they take and how much will they cost?

I received a great answer; “until I have worked them up I’m not sure at the moment”. Well done Gohar Choudhury, Primary Care Commissioning Manager at Barnet PCT. He put me firmly in my place!

You need to be careful that you do not give estimates of time and money before you have as Gohar suggests worked them up. If you are a project sponsor or ona  project board you should not be asking that question; wait until it has been “worked through.”

Many project managers report that the estimate of time given are often imposed and too optimistic. Yes, we all recognise those statutory projects with a deadline tast must be adhered to and in these cases it is essential to ensure you have the right resources available to deliver to time.

So, be brave. Next time you are asked how long it will take be careful with your answer. Someone somewhere will make you stick to it!

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