Nothing beats the whooshing noise that deadlines make as they fly by. And if you’re tired of making close calls on your projects, now would be the right time to learn why it’s such a big deal and how you can improve your time estimation skills.
But before we start…
Who Needs Deadlines Anyway?
For one, deadlines help add a little action to your otherwise boring everyday life in the office. But while it’s undeniably cool to make a close call on a deadline and feel like Neo dodging a bullet in the nick of time, you really don’t want to push your luck too often. Because whereas nailing the deadline is usually taken for granted, failing it always attracts real trouble.
Seriously though, the ‘dead’ in ‘deadline’ just about sums it up, making it really hard to justify its existence. But if you think about it, any deadline is just a product of time estimation. And for any market that charges per one hour of work, time literally means money. And even if you hate to count time, you’ve got to love to count money. Once we put it that way, the question becomes a lot easier to answer: be it a client or a regular freelancer, without proper time estimates there’s no way for either of them to tell how much the work is going to cost. Not to mention the risks of jolting down an unrealistic budget or overshooting your schedule by weeks or even months. But if you’re in the constructions, you can disregard all this.
It’s a Common Problem
Here’s a little confidence boost for people who feel real stressed about constantly having a hard time keeping up with their deadlines. If it’s always a rush for you, or au contraire – you’re always drawing a way too broad safe line(underestimating yourself or your team is as bad as overestimating, actually), you’re not alone in this. 9 out 10 project managers admit time estimation to be a painful issue, reporting whole 7 projects out of 10 missing their schedule or man-hours budget. And we’re talking about experienced professionals with formal training in time estimation having it tough when it comes to drawing a clear deadline.
If you still think it a small comfort, it would be fair to define the margins of a critical deviation from your initial deadline and a minor overrun that is considered to be ‘okay’. Here’s another surprise for you – multiple surveys prove that a 40% drift from the original estimates is nothing extraordinary. The funny thing is – those numbers have been very consistent throughout the years, with no sign of dawn coming anytime soon.
So what’s causing the time estimates and hence the deadlines to be so inaccurate? Long story cut short, managers blame clients for constantly calling changes and clients retort with accusations of not giving them a clear enough picture of the work they’re doing. Among less bias reasons, there’s a simple fact that even a simple job has a lot of dependencies and some pitfalls that are hard to predict and easy to overlook. In a way, it’s like fortune telling – you can’t process details that you yet can’t know of. And that’s what makes drawing a deadline so difficult. Bottom line: there’s no denying the importance of a good prediction, but it’s always a shot in the dark. You could stop right here, but I promise you it will be small comfort if you try to communicate that summary as an excuse for failing all deadlines to your boss, your team or your client.
Two Ways to Draw One Line
There are dozens of estimation methods practiced worldwide, but essentially they’re just one of the two stories: the expert way to draw a deadline or the formal one. First, let’s see what either of them is about and then try to tell which one is better.
There’s the expert way – all predictions are made by human experts based on their experience and… gut feeling. It’s often called a ‘guesstimate’ – and you’ll trust us when we tell you it’s for good reason.
The best perk of this ‘human’ approach is how agile it is. A seasoned specialist can make a pretty accurate evaluation of their (and their colleagues’) day-to-day performance and call in some changes in good time. Unless they get too cocky, which is a real problem.
The next major downside is that humans are not that good with seeing the big picture without overlooking the details. There’s an evident bond between a project’s complexity and how off from the initial deadline you’ll actually land. That’s just something we have to admit.
Then there’s the slightly more strict method that (supposedly) gets you rid of all biases and the trouble of keeping big data in mind – formal deadline estimation. It sacrifices human versatility for scientific consistency by utilizing pre-defined formulas. This is pure math and statistics, so now you know why it’s the less popular one.
And yet, the formal way is really stiff and just assumes there will be no major changes to the plan. But seriously, what are the odds of that happening nowadays? That makes the formal approach very ineffective in unstable projects with a lot of context and turbulency going on. Plus, you’ll need to invest a lot of time to just come up with such a formula and calibrate it properly.
Intuition or a Magic Formula?
So a flexible human mind and a consistent formula – which is better for producing an accurate deadline? We’ll have to call it even, as both can excel or mess things up in equal measure. So instead of searching for the best thing around, think of the context – which way is the way to go in your particular situation?
If your project is not that complex, but rather hazy and unstable – go for the expert way. Sadly, even the most versatile formula will struggle to keep up with constant changes, minor as they are.
And certainly, who said you can’t try a mixed solution? Fusing complex formulas with reflexes that only a human mind can offer has proven to be more beneficial than just sticking to one strict technique. So throw in a combo!
Ultimately – magic formula or not – it’s always up to you. The skill to draw an accurate deadline takes time to develop, and this is a textbook ‘learn by doing’ example, so just go for it. What’s the worst that could happen, right? Just be sure to let us know how that goes in the comments below and check back later – as we’ll have more helpful articles covering this topic real soon.