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The project has to be rescheduled again because issues are taking longer than expected. Is the plan going to work out this time? As a project manager this question should be familiar to you. Some time from now you will have to base your planning on statements made by your team again, and the cost estimates will not always work out as expected. This article sheds light on the causes and suggests a solution.

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Realistic task planning, evolution, our hands and optimism

Let us assume that a work package with an effort of 20 hours was planned. What will the person responsible for the implementation answer when asked whether they can complete the work package in the planned time? We humans are good at working with numbers up to 10, they seem handy to us. 20 is a lot in comparison, so for the implementation of the projects, it “feels” right.

Because we humans can only cope with crises to a certain extent, evolution has given us a tool to cope with. That tool is optimism. In our intense world, riddled with technical complexity, we often perceive even simple questions as a challenge and react how? With optimism, of course. "It going to be fine". However, optimism is by no means appropriate. Because our world is so technically complex, it often doesn't work as expected and even small problems can quickly become critical.

So there is no reason to assume a craving for recognition or even bad intentions if the estimate is too optimistic. The behavior is simply human - and can even be justified from an evolutionary standpoint.

Effort estimation in granular steps

The solution is simple. If you ask the person responsible for the project to divide the work package into manageable tasks, the situation is much more controllable. It is crucially important to provide tasks with individual time effort estimates. Using rough estimates is more effective than attempting to accurately estimate the effort to the minute (which is doomed to fail, anyway). The rough time estimates could be 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours or half a day.

The sum of the estimates for each task times is by no means a perfect measure but provides a much more realistic picture than a guess of the required effort for the entire work package. As a mathematical function, the sum is at least devoid of human optimism.

Project controlling with To-Do lists

How is the project progressing? Let's assume a work package is divided into 10 tasks. To what percentage is the work package complete when 7 out of 10 tasks are accomplished? The answer could be 70%, but 5% or 95% are good answers as well.

It is unrealistic to assume that the effort is evenly distributed among all tasks. Or let's put it this way, you have to be very optimistic to make this assumption. The 7 completed tasks could each have taken 5 minutes and the remaining 3 each require a day to complete. You don’t need a calculator to know that you are most likely not at 70%.

Therefore it is only sensible to assign weights to tasks in form of effort categories in order to achieve a realistic assessment of the work progress.

Solving this issue without a suitable software is not an easy task. Here is the approach of Octaved Flow.

With Octaved Flow projects are divided into work packages. The assignees of the projects can further subdivide the work packages into tasks, provide these with meaningful effort estimates and plan them. This way, the progress of work packages is determined reliably or at least with a significantly higher degree of reliability. Since the project progress is the total of the progress of the work packages contained, it delivers a noticeably more accurate picture during the project planning phase.

Additionally, these insights can be used during the bidding phase to estimate expenses. On top of that, after the creation of tasks and their corresponding effort estimates during the bidding phase, they will be automatically carried over to the planning and execution phase once the order has been placed. Therefore, you have to create them only once.

Last but not least, the assignees are constantly involved during the process, develop a sense of ownership and can improve their effort estimation skills with feedback loops.