You can’t manage a project without knowing how long things will take and how much they will cost. And when things change, you need to know that altering your project schedule normally has an impact on cost, and vice versa. Those are fundamentals for good project control, and integrated estimating can help you achieve that. What do we mean by integrated estimating? Well, it’s when the project management software tools you use include estimating capabilities, so that instead of estimating as a standalone activity, perhaps in an Excel spreadsheet, you use task estimates in the scheduling tool itself to predict future activity.
In short, linking your project budget and resource estimates to your schedule gives you a much better picture of your project’s financial performance and progress. Here are 5 other benefits of integrated project estimating.
1. Real-time updates
Estimating on a spreadsheet is fine as a one-off activity, but once those estimates have been transferred to the schedule it’s then a mammoth job to try to keep them up-to-date unless your software can give you a helping hand.
Many project management tools, such as Nomitech estimating software, allow you to enter real-time data and for team members to change their estimates as they go. This often links to timesheet-style reporting which in turn feeds data to the project schedule, automatically updating it based on the latest forecast for project tasks. The real-time picture means you always know what’s going on and can easily step in to provide guidance or to keep the team on track if you notice that tasks are taking longer than expected, or are forecast to take longer than initially thought. You don’t have to wait for status reports to come in from the team as you’ll see how they are progressing as it happens.
2. Better reporting
You don’t want to spend hours creating status updates when you’d rather be onsite supervising an oil and gas or construction project, so another benefit from linking estimates to schedules is that it is far easier to produce project reports. You can use the data in your project management software to create accurate reports with just a few clicks. There’s no need to duplicate information or to drag data from an unrelated spreadsheet into your report in the hope that your standalone estimates match up with what the rest of the data shows.
Instead, you’ve got all the estimates and scheduling data at your fingertips, ready to instantly populate a template report or to be manipulated into something bespoke for your project stakeholders.
3. Estimates link to other scheduling parameters
If a project task takes one person three days, that’s easy enough to put on your schedule. But what happens if your resource pool changes? Let’s say that one person has to help out on another, more critical task, and so they only have half as much time to spend on their original three day task. The effort might be the same, but the impact on the schedule is considerable, as the task now has a duration of six days.
This is a simple example, and you could justify the time it took to adjust your plan manually when this estimate is revised. But if that task is repeated every month for 18 months, across resources in seven teams and then back again when the individuals become available to work full-time again… Well, you can see that there is a large project management overhead to keep that schedule up-to-date. With estimates incorporated into your project management software and linked to other scheduling parameters like resource availability, you can get your tools to do all the calculations and replanning for you.
4. Easier link with risk management
Estimates link relatively easily to scheduling, and many project management tools will accommodate this. But a step further is to link estimates to risk management activities. Use your risk log to establish how risky certain project tasks are, and then build estimates for both the risk mitigation activities and the main task. If you see that a task is particularly risky, you can add more time to the estimate to allow for this, and that automatic link to the schedule will enable you to reflect the overall risk profile of your project.
This link to risk could be automatic or manual, but it is worth considering as risk can certainly affect the duration and effort involved in all kinds of project activities!
5. Better estimates!
If you manage your estimates alongside and integrated with your project schedule you’ll gather great data for your next project. This leads to better estimates for next time – and that could even be the next phase of the project so your own project team could see the benefits of collecting and using this data.
It’s easy to do: populate your schedule with estimates, then record actuals through timesheets and revisions to your estimates. Compare the actual task effort or duration to the estimate, and analyze why there were differences (if, indeed, there were). You’ll normally find that some tasks took a lot longer than expected and some didn’t take as long. All this is useful data to feed into your next estimating process. And you wouldn’t be able to accurately capture any of this unless your project schedule was linked to estimates, as managing it all in spreadsheets would be too time consuming. You can view cost data in Primavera schedules by using the Activity Usage Profile.
While this all might sound difficult, good project management software tools will make it easy for you and your team. There is a small overhead in setting your project up to record all this data and enable real-time interaction between the estimates provided by team members and the project schedule, but once this is done you’ll see lots of benefits from being able to work in a really smart, time efficient way with far better management information helping you monitor and control your project more effectively.