Good project management involves frequent forecasting. While it can be useful to forecast results right at the beginning of a project’s life cycle, the true magic of forecasting is that it allows for constant readjustment throughout. Forecasting allows you and your team to stay on track by anticipating extra tasks and resources for the project plan or budget and identifying tasks and resources that may no longer be necessary.

Frequent project forecasts facilitate proactive planning and flexibility. They can allow the project manager to regularly update the business case, which can help the team members keep the project on track, and also allow sponsors and other stakeholders to understand the reasons for any delays or changes.

A key element of project forecasting is to review the risk events that have already occurred and assess the remaining risk triggers. There are always a number of unknown, and often unpredictable, variables in any project, but frequent forecasting provides the project manager with valuable knowledge that enables proactive resource management as the work progresses.

What should we forecast and how frequently?

Frequent forecasting around time, costs and quality of deliverables is vital. Each forecast will allow the project manager to update the business case so that all team members and relevant sponsors know exactly how the project is moving along. The project manager will also be able to reallocate resources and seek sponsor approval in a timely manner.

Time forecasts allow for the reallocation of resources, including team members. To accurately forecast project duration, it is necessary to monitor the activities that will impact the project completion date as well as those that influence project milestones. Modern project management software lets you log updates on the progression of these activities as often as needed for any individual project, which will depend on its nature. You may need to do this daily, weekly or as you complete each relevant task.

Cost forecasts allow the project manager to plan for an injection of more resources and seek sponsor or management approval when necessary. Most projects can benefit from employing the Earned Value Management System in order to accurately forecast ongoing project costs. Depending on resources and the complexity of the project, you can also use trend forecasting, also known as “straight-line” forecasting, to estimate future project costs, although this can be less accurate. Cost forecasting is also something that software-based systems incorporating financial data to support budgeting decisions can help with, and again, using such software lets forecasting occur on an ongoing basis and as frequently as is appropriate for the individual project.

Quality forecasts also allow for necessary adjustments to the project schedule or resources. Frequently forecasting in the area of performance and the quality of the project deliverables increases the chances that the project outcomes will match those identified at the planning stage. According to the “Rule of Tens,” the cost of correcting a technical issue increases tenfold as a project progresses from one phase to the next. This means, of course, that you must identify and correct issues around performance and quality as soon as possible. You can do this as long as forecasting around these factors happens frequently and in advance of the project moving on to a new phase.

Understanding the limitations of forecasting

A forecast is not a prediction. Even the best forecasting is still simply a projection based on current data, which is why frequent forecasting is necessary. Data is always subject to change, and forecasts need updated as new information becomes available. Decisions made based on your current forecast should always stay flexible. They are the best that you can do given your current knowledge of the situation. Remember that as soon as that knowledge expands, you have the opportunity to do better.

Frequent forecasting also narrows uncertainty as the project progresses. At the beginning of the project, you are looking a long way into the future, and your team should be prepared for the fact that early on, forecasting has a lot of limitations. As the project moves through each new phase, forecasting should become progressively more accurate. Towards the end of the project, forecasting correctly should be much easier. At this stage, there are naturally less variables, although they still may exist. The project manager or software can also use the team’s past performance to forecast future performance.

Types of forecasting

There are a few types of forecasting that you can apply to project management, and they may change throughout the project’s life cycle. Qualitative techniques can be particularly useful when data is scarce, which is typically at the beginning of a new project. These techniques may involve human judgement and rating schemes to help forecast possible outcomes.

Statistical techniques become more important when there is a lot of data to support forecasting. In project management, this might happen in the later stages of a project or when there are many comparable completed projects to draw data from. You should, however, remember that statistical techniques assume that past performance predicts future performance. While this is a reasonable assumption, it is more likely to be correct over the short term than the long term. The recent past can forecast the immediate future better than historical data can forecast the distant future, unless data patterns are very stable with few variables that can potentially impact the project.

Ultimately, frequent forecasting that uses recent and relevant data is a key element of successful project management. A responsive project manager can use forecasting to implement an ongoing series of tactical shifts that will keep projects running on time and on budget throughout their duration.

Verto’s project management software gives project management teams the ability to customise their forecasting needs to their individual projects. To find out more, register for our free 14-day trial!