Forecasting project timelines is an essential project activity.
And for many project managers and teams, it’s something we’ve been doing on projects since day dot.
The fact is, when you know how to forecast timelines, you’ll be putting yourself several steps ahead in the time management game. Which is an amazing thing in the world of project delivery.
The reason project forecasting has such an impact on your success, is because forecasting realistic timelines requires you to consider what needs to be done to deliver on your commitments and follow a process of prioritisation.
But forecasting timelines on projects is still something we often get so wrong.
Sometimes there are things that creep up unexpectedly. Sometimes you need to change course because of external factors. Sometimes there are several unknowns which make it hard to forecast a timeline.
The unexpected aside, there are five main reasons project teams misjudge project timelines.
Let’s explore what they are and what you can do about them.
Issue #1: Poor Project Planning
If you haven’t mapped out what your project needs to achieve, the options you’ve got to get you from Point A to Point B, the things you’ll need to get started, then you just aren’t setting yourself up for success.
Now the answer to project planning isn’t to get a project plan template and start whacking in the tasks your project team thinks it needs to do to meet the project brief.
You need to take a strategic approach to planning.
And if you’re not sure about how to do this, you can find out how to do it right in my article Powerful Project Planning: How to Plan for Success Every Time.
Most of the time on your project will be allocated to delivering on project scope.
This means that getting the project scope right IS the key to accurate project forecasting.
So, if your project scope is vague and only satisfies a small component of the change you’re trying to create for your stakeholders, then you run a big risk of missing chunks of work and therefore inaccurately forecasting the time you will take.
For more guidance on how to create a realistic and valuable project scope, check out my article Project Scope Creep: How to take control and get back on track.
Issue #3: Failing to engage the right people
Some teams are great at forecasting timelines to satisfy the scope. Where they let themselves down is not considering who they need to access when delivering on the scope and factoring in the time this may take.
If you fail to engage the right people and obtain critical information to help you successfully deliver your project, then you’re on the pathway to forecast blowouts.
But when you have an idea of who you will need to engage, you can start to consider how much time you will need from each stakeholder, how easily you can loan their time to gather information or how difficult this may be and build this into your project forecast.
Check out article Project Stakeholders | How to Engage the Right People on Your Project as a great starting point to decide who should be engaged on your project.
This article also provides a list of questions you can ask to draw out the right people to speak with.
Issue #4: Not knowing what resources you’ll need
Once you are clear on what needs to be delivered and who needs to be engaged, it is important to understand what else the project team requires to get on with the work.
If you fail to detail the resources you’ll need access to throughout the project in order to successfully deliver it, then this will inevitably impact your forecasting.
How do you solve this issue? By attending to issue #4 and ensuring you’ve engaged the right people to provide you with the right information so you can make an accurate assessment of the resourcing requirements of your project.
Issue #5: Making assumptions
If we look back at the first four issues that cause headaches with project forecasting, they all have one thing in common – they are driven by assumptions.
When you base your forecasting on assumptions instead of real information from project stakeholders, you simply can’t expect your project to run to schedule or to budget.
The solution, is to ensure you follow my 5 Elements of a Strategy (5ES or 5 EE’s) framework. This framework addresses 5 key elements which every project needs to consider to improve their chances of success.
The 5 elements are Information, People, Technicality, Process, and Timing.
These also happen to be the areas which suffer the most common assumptions.
And assumptions are a sure way of attracting project delays.
You can learn more about the 5 Elements of a Strategy and how to use them to effectively plan your project strategy, in my articles Communication Structure: 5 practical ways to improve project comms and Communication Success: 5-steps to the right project info walk you through the elements and show you how to get started with the 5Es.
When you improve your forecasting, you’ll improve your delivery
Now that you know the five issues that impact project forecasting, you’ll be empowered to do something about them as you’re forecasting for your next project.
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