A Low-Risk Way to Improve Your Estimation Skills

Putting estimates together for projects is difficult even in the best conditions. It’s even harder when client’s are pushing for a proposal before you’ve had time to get all the details, or you end up having to spend a lot of unpaid time putting together a proposal that ends up getting rejected.

Estimation skills come from experience, but how you get better without burning yourself or your client on a wild guess?

Write Your Daily Action List.

Every morning, before you begin working, list out all of the tasks you need to complete that day and how long you think it will take to complete them. Make sure each task has a discrete. You should be able to look at each task and answer “Did I complete this task?” with a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

“Work on my Blog” — not a discrete task.

“Write” — not a discrete task.

“Finish the first draft of my article on estimation practice (estimated time: 30 minutes)” — discrete task.

Getting practice on turning vague ideas into actionable steps will help you get more done and predict your output more accurately.

And Keep It Private.

These estimates are for your eyes only. That means that it doesn’t matter if you get them right or wrong. Give yourself the freedom to try and to fail. If you are way off of something, look back and examine why.

  • Did you start working on a task without having everything you need to complete it?
  • Did you forget about steps involved in getting the task done?
  • Did you give yourself enough time to complete the work?
  • Did you leave yourself any margin for unexpected interruptions or breaks?
  • Did you start doing work that was out of scope from the original task?

Every Day is a Tiny Project.

Every day you have you can write a low-stakes plan for success. Keep doing this and you’ll not only build your skills in planning and forecasting, you’ll develop confidence in your abilities and a monk-like discipline to create plans and stick to them.

Having these skills won’t only make you better at proposal writing, it’ll make you a better developer.

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