How to Estimate Time for a Project [Ultimate Guide]

Author: Karolina Matyska

Projects may come and go, but what truly counts is how you handle each project individually to achieve the set goals.

To stay on top of deadlines, keep an organized timesheet of your billable hours, and have a healthy workload, you must learn how to estimate time for any project. 

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This time estimation is a great advantage for you so you can have a scheduled calendar with the hours assigned to work on the project. It’s also crucial to your client so that they can have an estimated time of the project’s delivery. 

With that being said, today you’ll learn all about the time estimation for a project in multiple chapters: why it is essential, how to estimate time, tips for better estimations, and the importance of a time tracking tool. 

How to estimate time for a project 

The real question remains: how is it possible to estimate time for a project? You have some essential steps that you need to take to grasp the complexity of this method.

If you follow them religiously, you won’t have any problem in achieving greatness on the time estimation for projects:

Step 1: Divide tasks into smaller ones

Once you’ve received the project proposal, you need to divide it into smaller tasks to fit within your and your team’s schedule.

You’ll also need to decide what you can do yourself and what you have to delegate. You must write up the journey that you need to take to achieve the project’s completion. For example, here are some steps:

  1. Research
  2. Consult the team
  3. Join everyone to make the project’s proposal and review it
  4. Send to the manager for final review
  5. Submit the written and edited proposal

After that, you must estimate the time on each step of the journey until completion.

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Step 2: Onboard team members

Ensure that you involve everyone you need for the project, considering each one’s expertise.

Time estimation for a project is even more effective when you ask your team’s opinion. Due to their specific skills, the employees’ insights could be a game changer for time estimations.

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Step 3: Collect past data

After all the considerations you followed in the previous steps, it’s time to officially start estimating the time you require to finish a particular project.

It’s vital that you establish time estimations for every single task, from the smallest to the more complex one. This is the perfect time to look at past data collected from time tracking software and people that have already been doing time estimations for a while.

Step 4: Add extra time to your estimation

As a preemptive action, you do need to add extra time to your estimations.

You must include it because accidents and unforeseen events happen all the time, especially when doing business. You need to anticipate things such as supplier delays, meetings, breaks, testing and reviewing, and so many others.

Step 5: Schedule tasks

With every time estimation that you generate alongside your team, the next necessary step is to place every task on your and your team’s schedule.

A best practice is to plan the tasks you need to do and delegate the other tasks to your team members.

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Step 6: Allocate time to review and test

Once your project’s going well, with some everyday obstacles along the way, you usually achieve completion after the hours you estimated. However, it’s equally essential to estimate revision hours which you use to review the final product of the project or the task itself.

Finally, you must assign time to test it before delivering the completed project.

Step 7: Compare planned vs. actual delivery time

This is when you reach the end of the project or the task.

Once you’ve done everything in your control to achieve completion, it would be great for you to compare the estimated time you’ve established for a project versus the actual time required to do it.

Whatever differences you may find, document them for future reference.

9 tips to make better time estimations

Even if you have been mastering the skill of estimating time for a project, there’s always the possibility of continuing to develop that same skill.

There are numerous tips that you could find helpful to contribute to your better time estimations:

1. Use a project planning software

You must facilitate the way that you handle your workload, and that contribution is a big part of the project planning software.

With that, you have many different features that can help organize your tasks, assign the project to the work hours and define billable hours. Not only that, but you’ll be able to have a full project report to present to your clients.

2. Evaluate projects you’ve worked with

To better estimate time, you must evaluate previous projects you’ve completed. That is because you could find a pattern in projects that could help you to define similar projects in the future.

3. Be aware of high and low time estimations

When making time estimations, it’s important to be mindful of both high and low estimates. Recognizing the potential range of time required for a task or project allows for a more realistic and reliable estimation process.

4. Make sure that you time every task

If you invest in timing every task you’re involved in you’ll be able to properly estimate how much time it takes to deliver your project. That will help you to make better time estimations of individual tasks and the entire project.

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5. Be mindful of your schedule 

It’s vital that you realize that you already have other events in your schedule, so you must balance whatever task may fit your workday with the deadlines that you’ve proposed.

6. Categorize your estimations

Create a sort of ranking to categorize tasks and projects within these three indicators: the best-case scenario, the worst-case scenario, and the most realistic scenario.

These will help have a better understanding of what time estimation entails.

7. Ask for opinions 

It will help if you seek other options that corroborate the time estimation method. Time tracking platforms and other people that are deep in time estimation could be the excellent guidance that you needed.

8. Invest in breaks

There are projects, tasks within those same projects, and other events. While it’s important for you to estimate how much time you devote to each task, it is also crucial to allocate time to some deserving breaks.

Improve time estimation with a time tracking tool

Project management time tracking is essential to accurately estimate project timelines. Let’s dig deeper to understand how a time tracking tool like Timeular provides helpful insights for accurate estimates.

Related content: How to create a project timeline

Historical data

A time tracking tool allows you to automatically capture how you spend your time and create a collection of past data. When you need to estimate the time for a new project, you can use time tracking insights to make the estimation more accurate. Moreover, you can evaluate your productivity by making a comparison to recent projects that you’ve been working on.

If you find projects similar to your past ones, you only need to open your time tracking tool to have your estimation ready in no time.

This is a great help to have a clear vision when estimating time on your and your team’s current and future projects. For example, below are some insights you can get in Timeular as historical data of a team’s week’s work.

how team spends time Timeular

Estimation versus real scenario

When it comes to estimating project time, it’s common to experience both overestimation and underestimation. However, by utilizing a time tracking tool, you no longer have to rely on guesswork. Time tracking software provides clarity by revealing real-time data, ensuring transparency and accurate estimations.

Customize and export reports

With the help of time tracking software, like Timeular, you can have a complete and accurate report. It aims to make you feel more aware of your time estimations and present them to clients.

You won’t have to allocate time to gather every piece of data because the time tracking tool can do it for you automatically just through the data that you submit.

Keep track of billable hours

Billable hours are critical to track the total amount of work that you’ve dedicated to every project.

That is easily managed when working with a time tracking tool because if you track every hour, you’ll have a full and transparent record of everything you’ve done.

That will help you with your calculation of hourly rates as well as to estimate your time properly.

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Why is time estimation important? 

Time estimation is important to a project because it holds a powerful job, which is the management of expectations from clients and stakeholders. Moreover, time estimations are crucial for planning the right resource allocation and increasing project profitability.

It enables the capacity to organize your and your team’s calendars by assigning tasks to yourself and delegating them to others. And it establishes a bridge of communication with the client, with the definition of the deadline and the budget, so that they are prepared.

TIP: Learn everything you need about measuring project profitability in our guide.

There are many benefits to estimating time for any project. Check them below:

Scheduling 

You’re able to organize your schedule as well as your team’s and assign tasks to yourself and to the other members. Everyone works for the same goal which is to complete the project and to achieve project milestones.

Resourcing 

You can establish how many people you’re going to need to complete any project in a specific amount of time. With that, you’ll have the expected deadline and costs to evaluate, along with the budget from the client.

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If you’re looking for a tool to help you manage your budget and control project costs, you need to know our list!

Taking control of your tasks

When you’re confronted with a huge amount of daily tasks, you can feel overwhelmed and defeated.

It might feel that you have lost control of everything you had to do, but sometimes all it takes is a bit of organization. Once you estimate the time on every task you have, you’ll have a sense of control over everything.

Motivation 

If the time estimate is 7 hours and you have 7 hours left on your day, you’ll know that you’ll be able to complete it. By that logic, while estimating the time for each project, there’s a major will to start the project early.

Tackle difficult tasks more easily

Sometimes it’s easier to take a lot of time dealing with a more difficult task. However, you’ll be losing resources, time, and motivation in only one task when you could have been segmenting it.

But when you’re estimating the time for every task within any project, you’ll successfully guarantee that you dedicate the time that the task actually needs.

In the end, you’ll learn that the task wasn’t that difficult; it just needed properly assigned resources and time.

Being a better estimator

While you’re learning how to be better at estimating time for a project, you could really use the help of a time tracking tool. Once you’ve combined those two elements, along with practice on your work routine, you’ll be able to master the skill of estimating time for a project.

Eliminating the overwhelming feeling

Normally people aren’t able to finish all the tasks in a full day of work. Sometimes the feeling of frustration and burnout lingers on you because you couldn’t finish that task that you were planning to complete.

With the ability to estimate time for a project, you won’t have to feel like that anymore. By assigning each hour to a specific task, you’ll have everything planned so that you’ll feel accomplished after a day of work.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, mastering the skill of estimating time for a project is crucial for success. By following the essential steps of

  • dividing tasks,
  • onboarding team members,
  • collecting past data,
  • adding extra time,
  • scheduling tasks,
  • allocating time for review and testing,
  • comparing planned versus actual delivery time.

You can achieve more accurate time estimations. Additionally, implementing nine helpful tips, such as using project planning software, evaluating past projects, being mindful of high and low estimations, timing every task, and investing in breaks, can further improve your estimations.

Using a time tracking tool, like Timeular, can be a game-changer in enhancing your time estimation skills. It allows you to access historical data, compare estimations versus actual scenarios, customize and export reports, and keep track of billable hours. Time estimation is important for effective scheduling, resource allocation, task management, motivation, tackling difficult tasks, becoming a better estimator, and eliminating the overwhelming feeling of unfinished work.

By consistently honing your time estimation abilities, leveraging time tracking tools, and implementing best practices, you can optimize your project management process and achieve greater success in meeting project goals and satisfying clients. Remember, projects may come and go, but your ability to handle each project individually and accurately estimate time will set you apart and contribute to your overall professional growth and success.

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