How to Correctly Estimate Project Management Timelines for New Clients

Posted on August 5, 2015 by Erin M

deadlineWouldn’t it be nice if we could all gaze into a crystal ball and see exactly how long it will take to complete a new project? Estimating project timelines is never easy, especially for new clients. With a new client, there are no past projects to base future times on when anticipating potential roadblocks (e.g., lots of last minute changes, a slow approval process due to multiple stakeholders, etc.). Consequently, it’s natural to want to leave extra time for potential problems. But when bidding on new projects, too generous of a timeline estimate can make your agency appear slow and inefficient, decreasing your likelihood of closing the deal.

This simple workflow can significantly improve the accuracy of project timeline estimation:

  1. Clarify deliverables and the final project. Review the proposed project in detail so there are no unknowns and you’re on the same page as your new client about expectations. What projects has your agency recently completed that are similar to this one? Where did problems develop for your agency in the approval process? Can your client point to examples of finished projects either within your agency or from a competitor that they liked? Know exactly what the client expects from the finished project.
  2. Know the stakeholders. When preparing your bid and timeline, ask your client for a full list of all stakeholders who will be involved in the project on their side. Who will be your client’s point person and what is that person’s project management experience? How often do they like to receive communications and updates? How many people will need to approve the final version versus project drafts? Will a board of directors or a legal team need to sign-off on a final product as well? Receiving a full list of stakeholders in advance will help your team better estimate how long the project turnaround will be between edits and final approval.
  3. Prepare for the unexpected. I like to add a week or two to address unexpected problems, be that a key team member who gets sick and can’t meet a deadline or a sudden change in project scope. I do this by building a few extra days into each stage of the project. If the project is progressing ahead of schedule, we can “bank” time at each stage. This extra time can come in handy should last minute changes occur to the project scope.

Writer Bio: Erin M is a freelance writer available for projects at WriterAccess.


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