As project and functional managers we are often asked by our organizations “what are we going to bill next month (or quarter or year)?”. It’s not always a straightforward or easy answer to provide. Depending on the size and scale of your project and your organization’s business model, your projection accuracy can be highly critical to the continuing success of the organization. Here are some tips and advice on building an accurate forecast for your team/project/pod.
You as a project manager need to fully understand with a high level of fluency what it is that your team is responsible for delivering and even more importantly what your approach and plan of attack is. By understanding what each of your team members needs to do, their tasks and task dependencies, you will be able to more easily visualize what your forecasted time period will look like. When you fully understand the mindset of your team members’ approach, their concerns, their worries and (hopefully) their optimism, you can combine that with your own judgment and ‘gut feel’ on what your prediction for the next month/quarter will look like. A technique that I like to do is to pull out a calendar and just walk through the next month and plot the work on a day-by-day basis, incorporating dependencies, roadblocks (and your strategy for clearing them) as well as the realistic throughput of your team. It’s a great smell test of your forecast and can often weed out some of the simpler mistakes before you show it to others.
What is a weekly blog post without pitching active communication? As the leader you are responsible for the outputs of your team. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to – at the very least – walk them through your forecasted to get their feedback? After all, they are the ones executing on your forecasted and they will be in a good position to tell you the things you might not have considered. Things like that vacation request that is still outstanding. Maybe a competing project that is taking up more time than anticipated. What about sales support? On-demand technical support (which can be very difficult to predict). There are a lot of ‘X-factors’ that can be mitigated by engaging your team in building your forecast. Collaboration is critical to building any sort of a plan, and forecasts are no different.
Building accurate forecasts is a healthy blend of science and art. Knowing your approach, your dependencies and roadblocks, as well as your team’s capacity and abilities will help you deliver an accurate forecast that will continue to build your stakeholders’ trust and confidence in your forecasting abilities.
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