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

June 2019
Volume 15, Issue 6

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Below find this month’s newsletter, hot off the press!

  • Feature Article: Twelve Ways to Improve
    Your Estimating Accuracy (Part 3)

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Note from the Author

Why Is Project Estimating Such a Hot Topic?

Hot sun shiningFrom time to time, I enjoy giving a presentation on estimating to professional groups or clients. Whether it’s to very savvy and seasoned project professionals or to people with very little project experience, we all recognize that we have a big challenge in common: estimating accurately.

During some of these workshops, I’ve facilitated a fun, eye-opening exercise to find out how long each person believes it would take to perform a short series of basic tasks. Are the tasks difficult? Not at all. They have to do with the amount of time required to simply measure the length of each side of a building.

The outcome? Regardless of who the audience is, the answers range from minutes to hours to days to weeks to complete the same basic undertaking!

This astonishing result shows how much variability exists just in our perceptions of what’s required to perform an activity. If you can imagine what happens when these differences scale to the level of an entire project, I think it can help explain why we often have so much difficulty agreeing on, much less carrying out, a precise plan of action.

That’s why I hope you enjoy today’s features, including “Twelve Ways to Improve Your Estimating Accuracy (Part 3).” Please be sure to share your comments on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

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

Special Message

A Handy Quick-Reference Guide for Project Managers

"The Advanced Project Management Memory Jogger" by GOAL/QPC
I’m a big fan of GOAL/QPC’s (GoalQPC.com) Memory Jogger pocket guides, and the Project Management series is one set of them.

Per GOAL/QPC, the original Project Management Memory Jogger (second edition) is a great source for projects at the individual or team level. In contrast, the Advanced Project Management Memory Jogger assists the project managers at the organizational or strategic level.

This book expands the experienced project manager’s knowledge of the core concepts in project management, such as scheduling, risk, team building, communication and negotiation skills, project control, and much more.

Feature Article

Twelve Ways to Improve Your Estimating Accuracy (Part 3)
by Adele Sommers

Once you develop robust estimating techniques, why not institutionalize them? The benefits to your organization could be enormous. In addition to reducing project risks, standardized practices also help ensure smooth sailing through the roughest estimating seas, enable you to respond gracefully to unexpected challenges, and streamline the entire process for future endeavors.

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series covered the first eight tips for increasing estimating accuracy:

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.
6. Document caveats, constraints, and assumptions in your estimate.
7. Propose adjusting the “project diamond” criteria.
8. Consider alternative ways of performing the work.

This article (Part 3) delivers four final tips on anticipating project needs, creating contingency plans, and developing more sustainable estimating methods.

9. Plan and estimate the project rollout at the beginning.

Road signsThe project rollout is the “rubber-meets-the-road” implementation of whatever your project will be delivering. A smooth rollout strives to minimize the disruption of business activity. In so doing, it aims to avoid major crises such as a system failure or overwhelming the people who must begin using the project deliverables.

Planning for the release of project deliverables should start in the pre-proposal, estimating phase.

That’s when people can proactively envision the possibilities for addressing downstream needs, instead of simply allowing circumstances to dictate their options later.

My Tips for Smoothly Rolling Out Projects checklist suggests various ways to deliver projects more effectively. You can then identify, propose, and estimate your rollout activities accordingly.

10. In really nebulous situations, try phase-based estimating.

If you’re trying to muddle your way through a very open-ended and vague set of requirements — where the margin for estimating error seems enormous — you could propose to do the work in phases.

You can designate the very first phase specifically for gathering and analyzing the project requirements. This discovery phase can be particularly important if you need to interpret detailed specifications, understand complex technologies, and/or master a new vocabulary to complete the work.

Phase of the moonAs part of the first phase, you could offer to deliver a detailed estimate for one or more subsequent phases, and perhaps a prototype, outline, plan, or analysis that describes any future work. While in this discovery mode, the most realistic way to estimate the remaining development might be to actually roll up your sleeves and produce some relevant work samples.

Phase-based estimating can thus enable you to pursue a complex project without backing yourself into a corner.

If your clients agree to an initial needs assessment phase — with no assumptions about the outcome — you’ll have more latitude to explore the possibilities, prepare a project plan, and develop a proposal. The clients also benefit because they’ll see the caliber of your work without having to commit to the entire project at the beginning. It’s a win-win way to mitigate risk!

11. Develop contingency plans by prioritizing the effort from the start.

Contingency plans are any predefined remedies or fallback plans that you develop based on “what if” scenarios. Such plans would spring into action if a project were in danger of falling short in any area in which success will be measured. Below is one of my favorite approaches.

Propose prioritizing all deliverables using whatever method all stakeholders can agree on. For example, the highest priority items would probably include features and functions that would be needed most frequently, or that would cause the most critical deficiencies if they were missing.

Especially on a fixed budget or schedule, try to ensure that all stakeholders concur early that the lower-priority items can be scaled back or removed if the project becomes bogged down by unpredictable events. If it turns out that the pacing factor is something beyond the team’s control — such as the limited availability of certain key players or resources — then the whole schedule might need to be rearranged to accommodate those constraints. With a contingency plan in place, however, all work can proceed smoothly in a predefined priority order.

Strategizing session with chessboardHere’s a simple, effective strategy for applying this sanity-saving approach:

a. Review and organize all tasks or deliverables into these categories:

  • “Must-have” within the current schedule, because they will be frequently used or high-impact items
  • “Nice-to-have” within the current schedule, but could be postponed
  • Can’t even schedule until there is more information available

b. Also, determine in advance whether the stakeholders would consider, in the event of a schedule crunch, receiving delivery:

  • In phases, just in time for the deliverables’ first dates of actual use
  • As a pilot or series of prototypes to be tested first and refined later

Therefore, if problems or delays arise, you and your client, management, and the project stakeholders will already have a flexible understanding of the priorities to be fulfilled — as well as any tasks or deliverables that might need to be jettisoned or deferred if the project runs out of time or budget.

12. Refer to your “lessons learned” database for 20:20 foresight.

Whenever you can tap insights you’ve gained from past experience, they’ll help you create more accurate estimates because you’ll be transforming “20:20 hindsight” into “20:20 foresight.

Woman gaining "20:20 foresight"Tips for Capturing “Lessons Learned suggests what to document over time, such as workarounds, solutions to problems, and preventative measures, including tools like templates and checklists.

Develop “best practices” to aid future estimating. Best practices are the very best ways that you and your organization have found of performing various tasks.

By documenting best practices for standard activities, you can plan on using them in a consistent way each time. Consequently, your future task estimates will automatically account for the most easily overlooked project necessities, such as reviews, revisions, and testing.

In conclusion, by planning your project rollouts proactively, using phase-based estimating, developing contingency plans, and repeatedly capturing your lessons learned and best practices, you’ll dramatically improve your estimating success!

Copyright 2019 Adele Sommers

The Author Recommends

The “Project Success Kit”

"Quick-Start Guide to Project Risk Management" by Adele SommersAre you looking for a compendium of ways to boost your team’s “risk management IQ”? Now you can gain “20:20 foresight” and stop unnecessary project failures due to expensive and avoidable risks.

My Project Success Kit contains a comprehensive collection of instantly downloadable “how-to” techniques that will walk you through a simple process of identifying, evaluating, and mitigating the most problematic project pitfalls using special tools, checklists, interactive worksheets, and best practices.

The kit includes a total of 126 pages of content and 2 hours of MP3 audio files. The audio segments are accompanied by complete transcripts and note-taking guides that cover each aspect of the risk management process and related topics.

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.

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