6 Steps to Estimate Time Correctly When Planning a Project

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 24, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Being able to estimate the time you require to complete a task or project can help you organize your schedule. Although predicting the exact time necessary for completing a project or task is challenging because of the many variable factors involved, an accurate estimation can be a valuable piece of information. If your work involves schedules and timelines, you can follow a series of steps to estimate time as accurately as possible.In this article, we discuss why it's important to estimate time correctly, describe steps on how to do it, and offer tips for improving your accuracy.

Why is it important to estimate time correctly?

The ability to estimate time correctly is important because it can help professionals in various fields advance their careers and reduce workplace-related stress. An accurate time estimate can help you secure the required funding for a project, and it can also help you assess the personnel and other resources you're likely to require. This can lead to more project management opportunities in the future. Estimating time correctly can also create a more satisfying work environment for everyone involved in a project, as they're less likely to work overtime to produce the desired results.

Related: Benefits of Effective Time Management (With Actionable Tips)

How to estimate the required time for projects

Consider following these steps to improve your ability to estimate the time required for a certain task or project:

1. Consult historical data for similar projects

You can quickly get a basic estimation of the time required for a specific project by analyzing previous data and finding out how much time it took others to complete similar projects. Although you may not find ones that are identical in scope, you may find specific parts of projects that resemble those you are planning to complete. You can then use them to estimate your own time requirements.

Related: Why Is Time Management Important? And How to Manage Your Time

2. Determine your specific requirements

Before attempting to determine how much time you require for completing a specific project, it's important to identify all tasks associated with it. List all the elements to help you visualize the total number of processes required to take the project from planning to completion. After doing so, place all tasks in their logical order and determine each one's individual timeline, which can then assist you in calculating an estimate of the total time required for the project.

Related: 11 Free and Paid Time Management Tools for Work Efficiency

3. Discuss the issue with everyone involved in the project

You can get more accurate information regarding the time required to complete each task by talking to the people who specialize in executing them. This can be particularly helpful if you're working with individuals who typically work on similar projects. If any member of staff has worked on a comparable project in the past, you can ask them to show you that project's timeline for reference.

Related: 8 Time Management Interview Questions and Example Answers

4. Assess potential risks

There are many potential unforeseen events that can cause major delays in a project's timeline, which may also affect budget requirements. If the project takes place outdoors, for instance, bad weather can be a significant factor in your project's completion, as certain weather conditions may prevent your team from operating. Study all potential risks related to your specific project, try to estimate the delays they might cause, and add time to your project schedule to factor in these potential setbacks.

Related: How to Use the Covey Time Management Matrix (With Steps)

5. Produce your time estimate

After gathering as much information as possible regarding how long each task is likely to take, use this data to estimate the total time you're likely to require. You can combine the gathered data in multiple ways. For instance, you can use the comparative estimations from similar projects and then take a bottom-up approach, meaning that you ask all personnel how much time they think their tasks require. This can produce an accurate estimate by combining historical data with individual employee expertise.

As a general guideline, try to avoid underestimation by working on the assumption that your initial estimates may be conservative. Adjust these estimates as you see fit but within reason. For example, you might require five days for completing a particular phase of your project, but a delay of a single day due to unforeseen factors can push the time required to seven days, as it's not feasible to ask employees to work on a weekend. In that case, you could consider estimating at least seven days for that activity.

Related: What Is Time Blocking? (Plus Importance, Steps, and Tips)

6. Make a timeline and enforce it

After estimating the time required for your project, you can present it to staff members and stakeholders in the form of a project timeline. Share this with everyone working on the project and the clients so that they are aware of your expectations. Remember to discuss with your team the importance of marking progress on the timeline as the project advances. Throughout the project completion phase, you can use dedicated project management software to track the time required for each individual task. This can help you detect situations in which the estimated time doesn't match the actual required time.

Related: A Guide to Project Management Leadership Styles (With Tips)

Tips for improving your time-estimating accuracy

Consider following these tips to gain a more accurate estimation of the time you require to complete a task:

  • Time all tasks. You can improve your ability to estimate time requirements by consistently timing every activity that you and your team complete. This may help you better understand the time required to perform various types of tasks, which can be helpful in the future when attempting to set deadlines for similar ones.

  • Prioritize the tasks required for a project. When estimating how much time the tasks associated with a project are likely to take, you can prioritize them to minimize time wastage and ensure that staff members always know what to do. You could classify your tasks as important and urgent, urgent but not important, important but not urgent, and neither important nor urgent.

  • Constantly overestimate the time you require. You can factor in additional time for unforeseen events by always estimating more time than you think is actually necessary. Always adding 25% to 50% of extra time for all tasks can improve the chances of accurately estimating the total required time.

  • Use a fudge ratio. If constantly overestimating the required time isn't feasible due to time and budget limitations, you can use a fudge ratio, which is an estimate of how much you're likely to over- or underestimate the required time. You can work this out by analyzing past tasks and dividing the estimated number of hours required by the number of hours it actually took to complete them.

  • Create a three-point estimation. You can improve your time estimations by considering the required time in the best-case scenario, worst-case scenario, and the most realistic scenario. You can then combine these three data points to get a more accurate estimation of the actual time required.

  • Get feedback from others. Discussing the time required for a task or series of tasks with people who have extensive experience in executing them can help you improve your estimation accuracy. Do research into similar tasks that others have carried out on behalf of the organization and ask specific questions, such as how long they took to complete, which parts were most challenging, and what unforeseen delays they experienced.

  • Factor in staff breaks. When estimating the time required for a specific task, it's important to consider the breaks that the team members require. Besides the time they spend actually working on the task, they can take coffee breaks, have meetings with supervisors or managers, or handle other unrelated tasks, which can increase the overall time required.

Explore more articles