Notes on Brett Harned’s Estimate & Plan Digital Projects with Ease & Accuracy

(From a virtual seminar on’s All You Can Learn library)

3 types of projects to be scoped:

  • Agile
    • Kanban, scrum, no estimates, sprints, backlogs
  • Waterfall
    • Milestones, dependencies
  • Hybrid
    • Combines the above to produce new products with a sense of agility and collaboration but also allows for milestones and formalized stakeholder feedback

An example of a hybrid process:

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 5.22.02 PM

Some teams find requirements and a rough sense of the design are needed upfront for stakeholder feedback and approval to continue, with the rest of the work slotting  into sprints

Before selecting your process, consider:

  • Team/experience levels
  • Stakeholders/clients
  • Scope
  • Deadlines

Estimating & Scoping

Reasons to create estimates:

  • Calculates rough cost of project
  • Makes sure you’re properly staffed
  • Gives a sense of timeline and deadline
  • Helps answer, Are we really excited to do this project? Are we aligned on what we want to achieve?

Ask questions:

  • What is the project’s goal?
  • How will your team and client measure success?
  • What results are we expecting?
  • Who’s participating from the client side?
  • What range of services is required?
  • What other dependencies are there?
  • What’s the budget? Is it flexible?
  • What are the tech constraints?
  • Does the client have an expert on the topic?
  • What’s the timeline and what’s the maintenance plan for the future?

Estimating Tactics: Waterfall & Hybrid

Dissect the project closely:

  • Who, what, when, where, why, how???
    • The more granular the what and why, the easier to an accurate how
  • Discuss goals
    • Talk about scope creep in advance and document what’s considered creep—this can be very useful during development
  • Discuss timelines and resources
  • Consider stakeholders/partners that you’re working with
    • What’s their level of eduction?
    • How much attention will they need?
    • How many of them are there?
    • What are their constraints, who are their other partners?
    • How many meetings/phone calls should you anticipate?

Estimate together as a team in the open—transparency of the process can only help

Steps & Tasks

Work breakdown structure:

  • Visually represent the project’s composition by breaking them down into stages and aspects of the smallest possible components
  • This will make you critically assess all the tasks the project requires
  • But avoid the old fashioned charts, people hate them and won’t look at them:

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 5.46.16 PM

  • Instead, try making it look more like a list:

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 5.47.58 PM

(Lucky Brett doesn’t live in NYC, where Step 2 will take 3 months!)

  • Create subtasks and get as granular as possible!

If you get stuck:

  • Don’t be afraid of asking questions
    • Be transparent about what you don’t know. It’ll just help build trust with the client
  • Ask colleagues for opinions
  • Check project histories
  • Remember, this is just an estimate. It’s not going to get everything right (it might not even get very close!) but it gives everybody an agreed-upon starting point

Estimating Tactics: Agile

Due to Agile’s fluidity, it’s important to set up two expectations carefully:

  • Agile projects have dedicated teams (otherwise estimating is nearly impossible)
  • All work is done in consecutive time-boxed iterations
  • If you can’t meet those two expectations, your project is probably doomed to be an Agile failure. Use a hybrid model instead

Things to consider when estimating:

  • What roles do you need?
  • How much time is considered “full time”?
    • Remember to factor in meetings, management tasks etc
  • How dedicated is the team really?
  • How do you factor in holidays, time off, planned furloughs?
  • Is there a blended rate for the team?

Once you establish your baseline cost per sprint, just do the math:

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 6.09.55 PM.png

It’ll never be perfect but it’s good enough to say:

  • Our release planning session estimates the website will take 12 sprints and cost about $240,000—ok?
  • Last-minute requests and such may require additional sprints, at about $20,000 per sprint. Does the budget allow for this?
  • Hey team—any bugs that prevent us from going live will cost us $20,000 per extra sprint, and nobody will be happy about that. Are we sure of our timeline?

Estimating Tasks within Agile

Start with well-written, fully-fleshed out stories to create story points

  • Look out, here comes Fibonacci!

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 6.20.30 PM

(You may need to research this if you aren’t familiar with these numbers)

  • Consider using planning poker with the team (again, research as needed…)
  • Consider starting with T-shirt sizing

Project Planning

Plans can be made in familiar spreadsheet or calendar apps

You can also make them more visual, especially for stakeholders:

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 6.28.27 PM

Or good old kanban boards:

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 6.31.54 PM

You may need to create a combination of views for different teams. Just make sure your chosen format(s) are understandable to everyone involved

A good plan will:

  • Communicate major deliverables
  • Detail the delivery process
  • Communicate timing and deadlines
  • Highlight dependencies
  • Establish team roles and assignments

Brett continues on with more about planning, but I am out of recapping time!

About Brett (from his site): I’m Brett Harned, a digital project management consultant, coach, and community advocate from Philadelphia, PA. My work focuses on solving issues that are important to organizations who want to produce quality digital projects in harmony. I love to build processes and communication tactics that work not only for projects, but for the people involved in them. Most recently, I’ve worked with companies like SimpleYNPNNavy Federal Credit Union, and a number of digital agencies. Prior to starting my consultancy, I was Vice President of Project Management at Happy Cog, where I mentored a team of PMs and managed projects for companies like Zappos, MTV, and Monotype.


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