Estimating Process

The purpose of these articles on Project Management Planning process is to pass along knowledge and skills I have built up over the years as a project manager.  My only claim is that these processes and tools have worked for me.  I will start with the area that I have been told I am very good at project manager which is the estimation process.

My assumption at this point is that you have you project scope and high level requirements defined.

I have found that if you treat project planning as a "team sport" you will end up with a better plan, estimates, and a greater commitment from the project team.

Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is simply a detailed description of project deliverables.  Each item in the WBS will become a tangible item the project team will complete.  Usually each item will require a number of steps (tasks) in order to be completed.

One of the best ways to build a work breakdown structure is to bring the entire team together in a meeting to develop the WBS as a group.  Based on my experience the average size project is going to require at least two meetings that are two hours long each.

Prior to the meeting make sure everyone on the team has time to read the project scope and high level requirements documents.  You should also gather the following items prior to the meeting

  • Sticky Notes (3 x 5)
  • Pens
  • Flip Chart paper and masking tape or Sticky Flip Chart paper

You need to prepare ahead of time by creating a few charts which capture the key elements of the project scope, high level requirements, assumptions, risks, issues, blank flip charts and a "parking lot" location. 

Here is the agenda I would suggest for the meeting:

  1. Introductions - Make sure everyone on the team knows everyone else by giving their name, title and project role.
  2. Review the charts - Have everyone look over the charts you have prepared.  If anyone identifies anything that is missing, have them use a sticky note to document the missing information, along with their initials and put it on the appropriate chart.
    • Parking Lot - This flip chart is used to collect anything which is not directly associated with the project but is important information that should be passed along to the right team.
  3. Explain what a WBS is and is not - Provide a quick explaination about what a WBS is and is not.
  4. Brainstorm WBS items - Pass out sticky notes and pens.  You may want to break up the team into groups of 5 to 8 if you have a large team.  Each group should take the next 10 minutes to write down as many WBS items as they can in time allocated.  One WBS item per sticky note.  Tell everyone that they need to work individually for now.
  5. Review WBS Items - Tell the groups that each member will read off their items, as they are reading, it might spark some more ideas and those should be recorded as they are thought about.  Each team member will read their items.  The best way to do this is in a round robin manner with each person reading one of their WBS items and then the next member reading one item.  This will continue until everyone has read off their entire list.
  6. Group WBS Items - Have the teams get up and place their sticky notes onto the blank charts.  As they place their sticky notes try to group similar WBS Items togerther.
  7. Review & Name Groupings - Review the groupings of WBS items and suggest a name for each grouping.  Let the team decide.

At this point you have probably collected a good initial WBS and potential hierarchy of the WBS.  Thank the team and collect the material.

At this point you will want to collect, organize and document the WBS information.  Personally I find using an Excel spreadsheet a useful way to collect this information.  I will include the Excel template I use to collect the WBS and estimates.

For those of you who have another way of collecting this information please share it via the comments.

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