How to estimate time for a task more efficiently

It can be quite tricky to estimate time for a task. Especially if it hasn’t been performed a few times before. The most accurate way of estimating how long it takes to perform a task is performing it several times until you find an average value. There are, however, some alternative ways of doing so.

Time estimation is a very important part of any task management process. Learning how to to estimate time accurately is very important for a number of reasons, such as making sure your team can deliver projects on time. Even the smallest of tasks demands analysis and preparation. Without setting execution and performance standards you’ll most likely have a hard time sticking to due dates and budgets.

How to estimate time more efficiently?

There’s much more to task management than listing and delegating tasks. One of the most important parts of this process actually takes place way before the task is executed.

Properly planning the time and resources it’ll take to execute each task, for example, can go a long way when it comes to improving your team’s productivity. There are quite a few different approaches for estimating time for a task. Here are a few:

Bottom-up

As the name states, bottom-up estimating allows you to estimate time for a project as a whole by breaking larger tasks into smaller, more detailed ones. Once you do that you’ll focus on estimating how long it’ll take to complete each one.

Estimating time through this approach improves the chance of your estimations being accurate since you’ll consider each task incrementally. To estimate time for the entire project just add the amount of time for each task and voilá, that’s it!

Ps. If you’re not sure about how small or detailed the tasks should be, try grouping chunks of tasks a person could complete in a working day. It’s not as accurate as estimating time for each task individually but it’s better than not estimating at all.

Top-down

Don’t you roll your eyes at me and say “isn’t this just the opposite of bottom-up?”. It sort of is. And it sort of isn’t. According to this approach, the first thing you’ll do is estimate the time for the entire project (timeline) based on previous experience (such as past projects).

Once you’ve estimated how much time you have for the complete timeline you’ll then divide it among the tasks according to their size, complexity, etc. Many project managers find it helpful to compare bottom-up and top-down time estimates to ensure accuracy.

There’s a chance you’ll get very different values for bottom-up and top-down time estimates. In this case, most professionals recommend you use the top-down values to challenge and refine the bottom-up estimates instead of the other way around.

Comparative

Ok, now you can roll your eyes at me. This one literally means comparing the time it took to finish similar tasks on other projects/processes to estimate time for a task.


These are not the only methods for estimating time for accomplishing a task. The best approach will depend mainly on what you believe suits you – and your team – best. One thing’s an absolute truth, though. When you use a specific tool to manage your projects/processes (such as Pipefy), you’re much more prepared to estimate time for any task.

With Pipefy’s advanced reporting feature you can extract detailed reports from all your processes and analyze how long it took for a task to be finished. You can refine the reports even further by filtering tasks according to their name, priority or person in charge.

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Written by Alessio Alionço, Tech Entrepreneur | 5+ Years Product Management | Founder & CEO of Pipefy, founder of Acessozero (acquired) | An addicted on technology, books and sports.