How to Improve Your Project Forecasting

project forecasting

Remember the 1940s cartoon Mighty Mouse? At the climax of each episode, the hero would swoop in to avert disaster at the last possible moment to the stirring tune “Here he comes to save the day!”

You’ll find that character type in most workplaces, minus the cape and rodent whiskers.

But what they see as heroics can hinder positive progress by their wider team.

So said Eric Lucas, PMO Manager at Crowley Maritime Corporation in the United States, as he gave a masterclass in project planning and forecasting at Workfront’s inaugural Best of Leap user conference in London.

“There’s something I call Mighty Mouse syndrome: there are people who love hiding things and then giving a ‘big reveal’; they love the grandeur of saving the day at the last possible moment,” says Eric Crowley of Crowley Maritime.

“But that’s not how humans are successful. You have to work as teams.”

Eric gave seven tips for how project managers can improve the accuracy of their forecasts:

  1. Humans learn in iterations—getting better at forecasting is a repetitive process.
  2. Involve all the right people.
  3. Adjust the forecast often.
  4. Ensure the forecast reflects reality, not desire.
  5. Communicate the forecast often—and through multiple channels.
  6. Conduct a “lessons learned” meeting at the end of projects to codify what everyone has learned.
  7. Accept that forecasts are approximations of the future; forecasts have to be “good enough.”

Eric emphasised the importance of encouraging colleagues to record hours spent on their activities accurately and in a timely fashion.

“It’s always better to use an incentive to encourage people to complete their timesheets,” Eric said. “Management putting fear into turning in timesheets will get them submitted, but they’re more likely to have inaccuracies. You’re better off finding positive ways to encourage and reward people to do it.”

Eric suggested eight areas of focus for project forecasting:

  1. Intelligence helps—use data to inform decisions.
  2. Domain expertise helps—tap the knowledge of subject experts to help understand tasks and project complexity.
  3. Practice improves accuracy—view forecasting as an iterative process that you can improve over time.
  4. Teams consistently perform better than individuals—explore issues and potential obstacles to progress or completion of work with teams to troubleshoot solutions.
  5. More open-minded people make better predictions.
  6. Training in probability can avoid bias—make judgments based on the likelihood of events or obstacles, not just the worst possible contingencies.
  7. Rushing produces bad predictions—it’s worth investing time and effort to get a realistic forecast of resource requirements and time.
  8. Revision leads to better results: “A project plan is an elastic model of the future – it needs to be flexible,” according to Eric, who advised delegates to regularly review progress against plan.

Eric explained that the temptation to keep things quiet is one of the biggest mistakes project managers can make.

“A lot of project managers take projects personally,” he said. “It’s a little like doctors or nurses becoming emotionally involved with the patient.  But you have to remember that you are not the project. One of the biggest mistakes project managers make is to keep secrets.”

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