Project management estimating time and capacity

Over the years I have project managed approximately 50 projects for 6 different agencies/companies, during this time I have seen all manor or ‘ways’ to estimate how much project management time is required on projects, from the finger in air estimate, more measured phase by phase estimation to over the top day by day estimates, but the question still coms up time and time again and without a crystal ball, how do you set aside the right amount of time and cost for the Project manager to be able to do their job well?

There are some many factors that come in to the estimation of Project management time, here’s just a few that you have to think about

  • Project process and agreed approach
  • Project Managers experience of such a project
  • Complexity of project
  • Current projects being run by the PM
  • Client’s needs and experience
  • Supporting staff
  • Distance to travel to clients
  • Number of possible meetings
  • Post launch support
  • and the list goes on

So let’s take a look at a couple of the above

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Supporting staff

In some agencies I have worked in there’s a whole supporting team with team members specialising in everything from Strategy to User experience and quality assurance (testing), but in other companies many of these roles are performed by the allocated project manager, if you have a team to support you that’s been added in to the project costs then the project manager can sit back and watch it all happen… oh no we still need to manage that team and the client but if all non project management tasks are allocated to a specialist then it’s about managing the team rather than doing to the work. There is the other side of that coin where the Project Manager is the swiss army knife, finding themselves doing more than project managing, this can include.

  • Strategy
  • Design
  • User Experience
  • Development (yes PM’s have and can done this)
  • Testing
  • Deployment/Rollout
  • Post launch support

You can imagine the difference in the time needed between these two scenario, in the first maybe the PM only needs 20% of the project time/cost, in the second it might be as high as 50% or more and if you’re one of those ‘tool for every job’ swiss army knife kind of PM you might do the whole thing yourself.

Clients needs (and experience)

I could (and I might one day) write a whole blog on this, for now I’ll just list out some of the things you should think about

  • Is there an experienced Project Manager client side?
  • How many people are going to be contacting the PM on a daily basis?
  • How technical is the client?
  • How many people are there on the decision committee?
  • Are you presenting to the boss (the person who will sign off)?
  • Does the client understand the specification and what they are getting for their money?
  • Do they understand change control?
  • Will the client need/want out of hours support?

Can you see how some of the answers to these questions will increase the amount of time a PM needs with the client? Having a GOOD PM client side can be a thorn at times but from experience it’ll save a fair few hours a week and maybe stop a few grey hairs showing through, embrace a client side PM and work with them as a team, it’s save hours.

Current jobs on the Project Managers plate

Now on the outside this might not seem like an issue that would affect costs and time, but I can assure you it does. If you give a Project Manager the space, time and stress free enviornment, just like mortals they too will do a better job, there’s nothing more unproductive as late hours and stress, if you are overloading the project manager then you will not be getting the best out of them. I know that some PM’s are super stars and can do 24 hour straight in the office but they are the exception and eventually they burn out too. So how can you tell if a PM has too much work, first use your eyes and ears, ask them if they need any help, but way before you do that why not work out what you are realistically asking them to do? Do this by starting with what you are charging the client and how the equals actual Project management hours. Not easy I know, I use a very crude spreadsheet on Google Docs, if you want a copy please let me know. (contact me)

The Answer to the origianal question

The answer to ‘How do you set aside the right amount of time and cost for the Project manager to be able to do their job well?‘ isn’t straight forward and there really isn’t a magic formula, if you’re lucky enough to have a good time reporting system then you should be able to retrospect look back and work out what, not only your team can do but what individuals can do too and see if you’re asking too much of a PM. The biggest advice I can give is ask the project manager(s) before, during and after a project and always get feedback from the project manager and client post launch, after all knowledge is power, but do use your skills for good and help you PM’s to be better.

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