LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

March 31, 2011
Volume 7, Issue 5

"How-to" tips and advice on increasing business prosperity, published every other Thursday.

To change subscription options, please see the end of this message.

Sign me up for this newsletter!


-- Feature Article: Twelve Ways to Improve Your Estimating Accuracy (Part 2)

-- Note from the Author: We're Coming Full Circle Again!

-- Special Message: Should You Be Doing Nothing?

Please add "Adele@LearnShareProsper.com" to your whitelist or address book in your e-mail program, so that you have no trouble receiving future issues.

You subscribed at LearnShareProsper.com, and you're welcome to forward this newsletter to your colleagues; please just keep the entire message intact. If you wish to discontinue your subscription, please use the links at the bottom.

Note from the Author

We're Coming Full Circle Again!

Colorful circleSpring offers the perfect time to "imagineer" everything we aim to do in the year ahead.

It's also a chance for us to ask ourselves, "Have I learned from my project experiences during the last year? Were there any discoveries I should review to better predict my results for this year?"

When we make an effort to address these areas, even if it uses time and energy that we'd rather spend on something else, we'll position ourselves to launch future projects with much greater clarity and minimal distractions or doubts.

With that in mind, I hope you enjoy today's features, including "Twelve Ways to Improve Your Estimating Accuracy (Part 2)." And please join the conversation by leaving your comments on my blog!

Here's to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, author of the "Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance" success program

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, visit the newsletter index!

Special Message

Should You Be Doing Nothing?

Team brainstorming ideasWhenever you're planning to initiate a new project, do you ever identify your "do-nothing" and "next-to-nothing" alternatives?

"Do-nothing and next-to-nothing?" you may be thinking. "I thought we were doing something. Why would we all of a sudden consider doing nothing?"

These sorts of options would remain available if you didn't pursue the project or solution you're considering, but instead reevaluated both the status quo ("do-nothing") and other relatively simple solutions that already existed but that you may have ignored ("next-to-nothing").

It's important to stand back and think about these things because we frequently become so engrossed in the idea that "We're doing it, doing it, doing it! This is what we're going to do! We have to do the project!" -- that we don't ever stop and say, "Do we really need to do the project? What could we do if we didn't do the project?"

Man floating on a raft, doing nothingAlthough you and your organization might pursue projects only after careful deliberation and planning, sometimes this exercise reveals reasons for "doing nothing" that you hadn't thought of before. Further, it's always wise to ponder whether you must move forward, and what your fallback position might be if you couldn't proceed because of a lack of funds or resources. This type of analysis also adds credibility to a business case that you might submit to a client or to management, for example.

Feature Article

Twelve Ways to Improve Your Estimating Accuracy (Part 2)
by Adele Sommers

Careful project estimating not only reduces the risks of projects running out of time, resources, or funding. It also enables you to recommend flexible alternatives, handle nebulous situations, and set sanity-saving boundaries around the effort to be performed. Part 1 of this series covered five tips for deriving meaningful predictions for your project activities:

1. Maintain an estimating and "actual hours" database.
2. Create project planning documents.
3. Perform a detailed task analysis.
4. Use a "complexity factor" to compare two sets of project tasks.
5. Use more than one method to arrive at an estimate.

This article (Part 2) offers three more tips to help you estimate more complicated or problematic situations.

6. Document caveats, constraints, and assumptions in your estimate.

IcebergEspecially when the project circumstances appear extremely dynamic or unpredictable, estimating the "unknown unknowns" can be particularly challenging.

The "knowns" represent only the tip of the iceberg. Do the remaining "unknowns" below the surface represent 20%, 50%, 100%, 200%, 400%, 800% or more of what is known?

My tips for using "triangulation" estimating, which involves at least three methods to converge on a set of numbers (in Part 1 of this series), wouldn't necessarily account for substantial unknowns, such as when project requirements are extremely vague, unstable, or poorly defined. You would need some kind of an "unknown unknown multiplier" to account for it all, which could be difficult to determine. Or, you could spend more time in the analysis phase researching or deriving better information.

When little time exists for analysis and estimating, however, collecting enough data may prove challenging. To counterbalance this disadvantage, you can plan to include caveats, constraints, and assumptions in your estimate to establish boundaries around your calculations.

Sample assumptions:

  • "Reviews: a) A maximum of three internal review passes is assumed; any further reviews will be considered out of scope. b) All review comments will be returned to us no later than the scheduled due dates and will be summarized and reconciled by your Review Coordinator. c) Final review comments will be minor and will not introduce any substantial new changes. d) Reviewers and subject matter experts will be available to answer our questions as needed."
  • "Out of scope tasks: If the specifications change after the project starts, out-of-scope activities will be itemized and billed at an hourly rate of $xxx. These tasks would include all additional design, development, review, testing, and administrative activities, for example."

Flat version of the worldI refer to this technique as "the world is flat" approach. It's particularly helpful if you're being asked to "back into" a tiny budget or schedule, or there are many unknown factors. To summarize:

  • Given what you know today, you assume the "world is flat." You bound your estimate with your caveats, constraints, and assumptions.
  • If you later discover that the "world is round" (there's much more to it than anyone thought), you could seek the additional time and funding needed to circumnavigate the globe.
  • If that time and funding is unavailable, you could suggest a variety of remedies, such as the ones outlined in the tips below.

A valuable benefit of defining these conditions and expectations is that you are "calling the shots" to a certain extent. Rather than remaining at the mercy of the circumstances in which you might find yourself -- with lengthy delays in receiving answers from people, endless review cycles, or limitless requests for extra work -- you're outlining specific factors governing how you plan to operate. This is a very important technique to have in your estimating arsenal!

7. Propose adjusting the "project diamond" criteria.

When your estimates don't match the expectations or needs of your customers, you can propose making realistic adjustments. Avoid backing yourself into a corner by accepting an infeasible budget or schedule.

Initially, you either defined or received a set of requirements for completing the project. Four types of criteria appear in the "project diamond," below (some of which may have been implied rather than stated).

Project diamond: Cost vs. Schedule vs. Quality vs. FeaturesIt's not unusual for project sponsors or clients to want:

1) Low cost and
2) Fast completion and
3) High quality
4) Many features
in the final project deliverables.

Although it's understandable to want the greatest value for the funding, usually it's possible to achieve only two or three out of four of these goals on a typical project. If both the budget and schedule are fixed, the tradeoffs would have to limit the quality, constrain the features, or both.

For example, you can recommend reining in the scope by reducing the number or complexity of the features, and/or delivering more skeletal, less-polished quality, at least initially. Or, you could suggest delivering a pilot version that can be tested and refined later, rather than aiming to produce the complete result right away.

8. Consider alternative ways of performing the work.

If your estimate realistically shows too much to accomplish in the time available, try to determine where the bottlenecks (constraints) would exist in the workflow. Then brainstorm ways to relieve them, and include those results in your project estimates.

Man working on an assembly lineFor instance, you might be able to accelerate the flow of the work by relieving some performers of time-consuming tasks. Consider whether some tasks could occur in an "assembly-line mode," where certain people specialize in certain things.

Let's say that highly skilled instructional designers would normally perform a large amount of editing and formatting as part of their roles. Yet they can easily become bogged down in these painstaking tasks and introduce a bottleneck in the workflow.

You might evaluate whether using specialized editors and formatters could remove that burden from the instructional designers' shoulders, leaving them to concentrate on what they do best. Making shifts in areas such as these could alleviate much of the pressure in the workflow.

In conclusion, including caveats, constraints, and assumptions in your estimates; realistically adjusting certain project criteria; and brainstorming alternative ways of performing work are effective options for handling challenging estimating scenarios. Next, Part 3 continues with yet another set of ideas.

Copyright 2011 Adele Sommers

The Author Recommends

No-Cost Mind Mapping Tools Aid Project Planning

Sample mind map To keep my "millions" of project and related ideas neatly collected in one ever-expanding and flexible location, I've been using a mind mapping tool called FreeMind (sample at left).

FreeMind is not only *free* (as in no-cost, open source software), but it is also cross-platform compatible. The platform issue can be a big plus, since many people work back and forth between Mac OS and Windows platforms. Since I do, I prefer to use applications that can follow me to either location.

Team brainstorming ideas

Another mind mapping option enables you to collaborate interactively on the Web. With the *free* tools at Bubbl.us, you and others can create and maintain a mind map online.

Mind mapping tools in general can help you capture brainstorming ideas, document notes about the books you're reading, outline goals
and task lists, and so forth. The expandable nodes and branches in the maps allow you to bounce back and forth among subjects in a non-linear way. These tools also can help you keep track of projects and subtasks, and manage links to related files and sources of information.

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of "Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance" -- an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today's issue, you'll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It's accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

LearnShareProsper.com/Business Performance_Inc.,
7343 El Camino Real, Suite 125, Atascadero, CA 93422, USA. For information and Customer Service, call +1-805-462-2187, or e-mail Info@LearnShareProsper.com.


©2011 Business Performance_Inc., Adele Sommers, All rights reserved. www.LearnShareProsper.com

Your feedback is always appreciated! Write to us at info@LearnShareProsper.com. We respect your privacy and do not give out or sell subscriber names or e-mail addresses.

Please use the links below to take yourself off our list or change your e-mail address.