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Time Estimation Featured

   I want to say right at the beginning of this Wiki post, the concepts come from a great book by Julie Morgenstern, “Time Management from the Inside Out. The Foolproof System for Taking Control of your Schedule-and your Life.” published by Holt, 2004, second edition.

   So, what’s the issue in Project Planning and time estimation? At least part of the problem is the way people view time. One of the first steps in taking control of time is to challenge your very perception of it. And that is regardless of the type of project your planning, or you experience with planning.

   Most planners think of time as intangible, or something we can’t feel or see. In the journey from chaos to order, it is often easier to organize space than time, because space is something you can see. Time on the other hand, is completely invisible, untouchable. If time remains slippery and elusive, you will have difficulty planning and managing your projects.


Quantifying the Intangible

   As an example; How long is your day? Well that depends on your energy and how much sleep you had. How long is an hour? Well, if your doing something you love, it whizzes by; but if your caught up in something dreadful, it crawls painfully along.

   To be more successful, you need to change your perception of time. You need to learn to see time in more visual, measurable terms. Essentially, just as a closet is a limited space into which you must fit a certain number of objects, a schedule is a limited number of hours into which you must fit a certain number of tasks. In fact, each day is simply a container, a storage unit that has finite capacity. You can only fit so much into it.

   If an overstuffed closet (Space) and an overstuffed schedule (Time) are similar, then you could apply the same organizing strategy to each, right?



 Similar items are grouped together

 Similar tasks are grouped together

 No guesswork as to where to put things

 No guesswork as to when to do things

 Orderly arrangement makes most space

 Orderly arrangement makes most of the day

 You can see what’s there at a glance

 You can see what has to be done at a glance

 Easy to see when you’ve reached capacity

 Easy to see when you’ve reached capacity

 Maintain order with one in/one out rule

 Maintain order with one in/one out rule


   Once you understand that time fits in a container, you begin to look at your to-dos differently. Essentially, each task is an object that you must find space for in your schedule or container. Just as every pair of shoes you place in your closet takes up a certain amount of room, each task takes up a certain amount of time. It becomes critical to evaluate your to-dos in terms of their size (duration) to determine whether they will fit into your schedule or not.

   Let’s consider three types of projects on a ‘project-type continuum.’ On the far-left side, we have Ad-Hoc projects, on the far-right side we place Predictive projects, and in the middle we’ll place Hybrid projects. This positioning is based on the amount of planning performed. 


   Predictive projects are the ones we’re most familiar with. These are the ones where WHAT is to be done, WHEN it will be done, the sequence of performance; risks and costs are all predicted, even WHO will do each task is predicted. The container of all these predictions is normally referred to as the project plan. Standardized organization helps make the demands on our time visible, just as an organized closet.

   Ad-Hoc projects are different, there is no planning, no estimating beforehand. Even WHAT needs to be done isn’t planned, but just pops up when needed. Think of an empty closet, where stuff is placed, and stuff is removed constantly throughout the day. Of course, at any time, you can look into this closet, and see what’s inside, but that’s it. No Planning. You organize these projects with categorization, His and Her closets. Shoe, jacket, and suit closets help the user quickly find what they are looking for.

   Hybrid projects lie somewhere between completely predictive or completely ad hoc. Task lists likewise are just containers with varying degrees of organization and planning. Even our most trim “To Do” lists are normally categorized Hybird containers. We will either put headings and sub-groups in the task list, or have multiple lists. This structure represents upfront planning through selecting one or another form of categorization.


“HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?” – The Critical Question

   When writing out to-do lists, most people only ask themselves one question, WHAT do I need to do? The result is a monstrous list that goes on for pages. In looking at your list, you may ponder how you feel about each task – “I like this one,” “I hate that one” – but you probably don’t consider how long it will take. You are approaching your tasks qualitatively, not quantitively. Qualitative is not tangible. The first step to better planning is to make time visible with the use of quantitative divisions of time neatly organized in our time containers.

   A computer science student had this figured out; later becoming one of the best project managers I know. At the beginning of each semester, she’d figure out how many pages she had to read for each course. Then she’d calculate: “It takes me an hour to read, high-light and study ten pages. I’ve got six five-hundred-page text books to read this semester, that’s a total of three thousand pages to read. At ten pages per hour, I’ll need three-hundred hours to get through. With 12 weeks in a semester, that means I need to study five hours a night if I want the weekends off.”

   Imagine how relaxed she felt knowing that if she studied fifty pages a night, she’d make her goal.

   We often resist calculating how long things will take for fear of discovering that we don’t have enough time to do it all. Other times we miscalculate based on wishful thinking. But, denial doesn’t change reality, and only increases the invisibility of time.

   Unfortunately, it’s easy to dramatically under- or over estimate how long tasks take based on haw we feel about something. Hate doing the dishes, it must take an hour. Love surfing the net? Easy, it’ll only take ten minutes. We often miscalculate tasks that we don’t enjoy doing. The key is to find out how long it really takes YOU to do the things you need to do and move away from wishful thinking.

   With tangible segments of time, organize those closets – ‘to-do’ lists and projects to better manage and control your day.

Last modified onTuesday, 16 May 2017 19:50
Val Workman

With a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, Val began working in the Aerospace and Defense, Telecommunications, and Electronics industries doing Predictive performance modeling, simulation, and animation. Later he would gain experience in Project, Product, Program and Portfolio Management. He leveraged this experience as Director of Global Marketing at Telelogic and while serving as Fellow at Ryma Technologies. He worked as a consultant in Enterprise Work Management for Workfront. He is the father of six kids and has been in Boy Scouting for 20 years. He has been an active evangelist for Integrated PM since 2009.

As a columnist at the Innovation Spark, Val writes a column about the issues and practices of Integrated PM leveraging the format of a 1960s cartoon, "Mr. Wizard and Tooter the Turtle".


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