There is a lot of press space being given to the 2012 Olympics here in London – saying that the estimates for the games “has quadrupled”.
Now I am NOT going to enter into the debate as to whether the costs have increased or even by how much. However, what I will say is that we are generally really poor at estimating.
Research shows we suffer from OPB….optimistic planning bias. What does this mean? We think we can deliver a project of 40 weeks for example in 20 weeks. (For those that want to get hold of the paper see ‘Exploring the “Planning Fallacy”; Why People Underestimate Their Task Completion Times; Buehler, Griffin and Ross. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 1994 Vol 67 No 3, 366-381)
So what can you do about it? Here are a few brief ideas. Do let us know of ones you may have
1) if you are a senior manager avoid giving out end dates for projects (or even business as usual activities) until someone has worked through how long an activity will take. We have seen too many times deadlines given which are not only unachievable but completely de-motivating. Once worked out, you may well recognise that more resources (money?) will be needed
2) spend time thinking through and discussing estimates. Sound crazy? Look at the Delphi Technique used in industry today. More realistic estimates are produced by discussing in groups the estimates for the whole project, stages or even individual tasks. To find out more, type Delphi Technique into your web browser.
3) ask yourself how confident you are of hitting the end date or the budget, or both. During some recent project management training events we asked participants how confident they were of achieving both the end date and the budget. There were some who gave appalling figures – quite a few said 10% confident, some around the 20%-25% mark with the majority in the 50%-60% bracket. Of the 35 people we asked, I would say there were only around 5 who said they were over 80% confident. If you are not confident of hitting the end date or budget (aim for 80% level of confidence) then what are you going to do about it?
4) find out who else has done this type of project before and get estimates from them (after asking them how realistic they were)
5) end of project reports – scour them for some feedback on estimates, how accurate were they?
6) Think about estimating as a skill. Don’t forget that in the building trade they employ estimators!
There is no doubt the Olympic estimates issue will rumble on. Make sure that your projects do not suffer the same fate