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Are You Estimating at the Appropriate Level of Detail?

April 18, 2011

Interesting post from the PMI Blog, Unrealistic Detail Only Sets You Up for Failure.  When we start projects with overly  elaborate, detailed estimates, schedules and project plans, we set ourselves and the projects up for failure.  Projects and Programs are subject to progressive elaboration.  We do not have all of the information about our projects or programs at the beginning – our estimates and plans should reflect that uncertainty.  We provide addition detail as it becomes available.

When you give an initial estimate of xx.xx hours, you set a different expectation for your stakeholders than an estimate of xx-xx hours or range.  It may feel like you are in control to provide lots of detail in the beginning, however if that detail is not based in certainty, you are misleading and will spend additional time correcting your errors and resetting expectations.  Project Management requires the ability to deal with ambiguity.  Share the detail that you can validate and be honest about the uncertainty.  Set the expectation that you will provide additional detail as you move through the project or program.  Use phase gates to reconfirm and validate your original estimates and assumptions.  Use these gates to update stakeholders on revised budget and schedule.

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