Estimating Bird-Dogging Time for Project Tasks

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New year, new projects, and new adventures in getting folks to think in project management terms. I’ve written before about Calendar time vs. Effort time, but this past week we came up with a new distinction that is worthwhile to call out.

When working with the business and getting folks to estimate how much time it will take to complete a task, there are actually three different things that most people will talk about – and folks need to be clear on what we’re asking for:

Effort Time – The amount of actual working time it takes to get something done. This is typically a reasonably small number.

If I could work straight through, and get the answers I need from everyone involved, I would probably spend about 8 hours typing this report up …

Calendar Time – Of course, it is rare that folks from any business can work on project tasks uninterrupted. Typically, we’re planning 20-30% availability, so we know it will take about a week to get this task done – normal delays, time gaps really, that should be somewhat predictable.

… but I do have my ‘real job’, you know – I’ll get this to you by the end of the week …

No surprises to this point – but you must be clear when asking for time estimates during project planning. Are you going to go by Effort Time, and allow the resource availability settings tell you when you can expect a completion? Or are you asking for Calendar Time, and skipping the fancy stuff?

However – when getting calendar time estimates from folks, make sure you understand why something will take so long. Some folks, burned by past dependencies on recalcitrant contributors, will pad their estimates with Bird-Dogging Time

… or maybe the week after – I have to chase down this information from a number of people.

Again, this is all quite natural and normal in most organizations; but you need to make sure everyone estimates and reports tasks and durations consistently.

It will take 1 month per system to set up a data feed with the customer? Are you kidding me here?

Calm down – that is most likely a Calendar time estimate, factoring in delays due to “negotiating” process and structure with the trading partner. Rest assured, plenty of other project work will be going on while the technical details get worked out. Just make sure folks understand your qualifiers, and that all tasks in the project plan are estimated somewhat consistently.

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.