Crunch at the End of Time

I’ve worked on many projects over the years, and I’ve noticed something in common with all of them. No matter how big or small the project, no matter how long or short the time line, the closer to the end of the project I get, the tighter the deadline seems. In discussion with several other people, I’m aware that I’m not alone in this regard, that many people who work on projects seem to notice the same trend.

At first, I wondered if it was a scheduling issue. In an earlier article, I discuss how to deal with scheduling issues, and after trying some of the advice suggested there, I realized that this was not the issue.

The problem has little to do with scheduling, and a lot to do with the nature of projects. The real problem is that when a project time line is written, the project itself is often poorly understood. As the project progresses, the problems being solved become clearer, as does the solution. However, the time required to build the solution gets longer, and soon even the padding put into the original estimate is long gone.

Is this a failing in our ability to estimate the amount of time needed for a particular amount of work?

I would tend to say that we are able to provide that estimate with a high level of accuracy. However, we are hard-pressed to accurately assess what work it is that we’ll be doing by the end of the project.

For now, I don’t see an answer to this problem, but I’m sure I’m not alone. How would you go about providing time estimates so that you don’t find yourself working late hours the closer you get to the final deadline?