Time Management—Why Padding an Estimate Isn’t Professional

In time management, the project management processes involving the time management knowledge area are as follows:

Process Group Process Number Process
Process Description
Planning 6.1 Define Activities Identifying actions to be performed to produce product deliverables.


6.2 Sequence Activities Identifying and documenting relationships among the project activities.


6.3 Estimate ActivityResources Estimating type and quantities of resources (human and material) required to perform each activity.


6.4 Estimate ActivityDurations Approximating the number of work periods needed to complete individual activities with estimated resources.


6.5 Develop Schedule Analyzing activity sequences, durations, resources requirements, and schedule constraints to create product schedule.


Monitoring & Controlling 6.6 Control Schedule Monitoring the status of the project to update project progress and manage changes to schedule baseline.

When it comes to process 6.4 Estimate Activity Durations, which is the process you need to finalize the schedule in the next process, one practice project managers use to make sure that they give enough time to complete all the activities is padding, or adding an arbitrary amount to each estimate.

Why is this practice not considered professional? Here are some reasons on why padding would have a potential negative impact on other knowledge areas of project management.

Project Management Area What effect does padding have?
1. Integration Management Is it a waste of resources—essentially a “fat” process instead of a lean one. This means that resources are tied up in your project that could legitimately be assigned to other projects. In may give you some padding, but at the expense of other viable projects, so it is bad from a program manager’s standpoint.
2. Scope Management If there is a scope change, the effect on the time and cost constraints will be harder to gauge because the estimates are not realistic.
3. Time Management The time estimate is not realistic and so the calculations of the schedule variance or schedule performance index will not be accurate. This will increase the chance of the project not being completed in a timely manner.
4. Cost Management The time estimate not being realistic also means that the cost estimate is not realistic either. For similar reasons to those in the time management paragraph above, the chance of the project not being completed within budget will increase, because the inaccuracy of the cost variance or cost performance index.
5. Quality Management Activity estimates related to quality are unrealistic, making the cost of quality unrealistic. Any question from management about the cost of quality vs. cost of nonconformance is going to have an added level of uncertainty, leading to potential bad effects on product quality.
6. HR Management With less buy-in by the team members of the schedule and/or budget because of their being unrealistic, it also means that there will be less team building and more possibility for conflict.
7. Communications Management Reduces the reliability of the estimate, and therefore you have less buy-in from team members. Also, encourages padding from team members as well on the estimates of their own work.
8. Risk Management Makes it harder to identify risks or bottlenecks in the sequence of activities. Since risks are more hidden, the risk reserves are not accurate, and this compounds the inaccuracy of the overall budget.
9. Procurements Management Estimates of work packages to be contracted out are unrealistic, making it harder to work with suppliers to deliver their components in a timely manner that meets the contractual cost targets.

So, with all of these potentially bad effects on ALL knowledge areas relating to project management, can you see why padding, rather than decreasing risk, actually ends up inflating it?

The next post will deal with the usefulness of the network diagramming method and the critical path? How does the critical path help the project manager?

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