I'm taking project management class.

It is hard to understand the relationship between estimation, risk management, and project management. Could you explain it based on your experience?

My lecturer said a good project manager must be a good estimator. I don't know that sentence clear true, because he also said estimation is guess so estimation is always wrong. Those are not contradiction?

Must a good project manager be a good estimator as well and why?
And another: must a good project manager be a good risk manager and again why?

This is part I'm finding hard to understand. What is the relation between estimation and risk management?

When I read my textbook, everything looks vague for me. There is no clear explanation of the relationships (estimate, risk management, project management).

How I can approach these issues to understand clearly? Could you recommend a book that has some explanation my curious?

  • 1
    My experience is that most project managers have to ask the developers for estimates. No, they aren't good estimates. They don't understand risk very well either, so they aren't good risk managers.
    – duffymo
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 1:15
  • 4
    A good manager reads the FAQ
    – Chris
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 1:31

5 Answers 5


You discuss a couple of areas, namely estimation and risk management which are a part of project management.

One is estimation which is understood as effort to plan how much time, people and resources it takes to deliver a project in given scope. Yes, the easiest approach here is guess, but that's definitely neither the best nor the only technique you can use. You can find a few more ideas on estimating in this question.

In short, estimating should be a collective effort, which means it isn't the sole responsibility of project manager but more a task for the whole team. Usually the base estimates are delivered either collectively by the a project team or individually by contributors who will actually be building specific parts of the application.

PMs responsibility is gathering all these low level estimates and building project plan basing on them, meaning arranging them in a reasonable way so people don't have conflicting tasks, anything which has to go first goes first, all dependencies between tasks are showed etc.

Another area you mention is risk management. For a reference you can start reading about identifying risks and them measuring them. With risk management it is again much of collective process. It means that every team member is entitled to identify and submit a risk and measuring them should use knowledge of the whole team and not only PM. And of course there are different people who are assigned tasks which allow to mitigate or avoid specific risks.

However typically, unlike with estimation, it is a project manager who does most of the work, keeping risk register updated, encouraging people to take part in risk management, checking updates for assigned tasks etc.

To summarize: both risk management and estimation are parts of project management. As project manager is responsible for both it's way better if they are good estimators and good risk managers. However, since risk management and estimation should be treated as collective effort PM should manage even if he's neither great estimator nor great risk manager as long as the team plays their roles in the process, e.g. preparing reasonable estimates and taking active part in risk management.


You asked some good questions (and Pawel and David have given some good answers).

Must a good PM be a good estimator? No. But they do need to understand how estimates were derived (techniques, assumptions,etc.), confidence levels, and how their accuracy (of lack of) affects other tasks and the project as a whole.

Must a good PM be a good risk manager? Yes. At its base level, project management IS risk management, as all projects face the same primary risk - the risk of failure. Beyond that they face other similar risks - being late, being over budget, not meeting specs, etc. The PM's job then it assemble a team that can execute the tasks, and then his primary responsibility is to monitor the progress of those tasks and the risks that may cause problems, and to be prepared with a plan to deal with them (risk mgmt).

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    +1 - "At its base level, project management IS risk management".
    – DaveE
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 16:27

Every individual comes with strengths and weaknesses. It stands to reason that each of us would present with some stronger strengths in one or two PM capabilities and weaknesses in others and maybe average strengths in most. I see some PMs sort of take the generalist route and become decent in all areas but not necessarily experts in any, and I have seen PMs specialize in a given area, e.g., project controls, and they focus their careers there.

You used the value judgment "good" in your question and I think good means different things to different people. As Pawel indicated, estimation and risk management are part of project management, so a degree of competence of a PM needs to exist for both of these areas. They at the very least need to understand what is going on in these areas. But if they choose, or cannot, grow their competence, then they need to identify how to workaround it, e.g., bringing in others who are.

If you need to choose on which to focus, consider that risk management touches everything across the PM domain of knowledge. There isn't anything you do that does not include risk management.


Like most of the skills needed in delivering successful projects, a PM needs to get familiar enough with estimating to understand whether he/she is getting realistic information. So for estimating, the answer is no, the PM doesn't need to be an expert estimator - the best estimates come from the people doing the work.

For Risk Management, yes the PM does need to be a good Risk Manager. Rule of thumb - any time the word management is involved in a project, the PM needs to be good at it.

Hop that helps.


As per PMBOK Guide, there are 3 core competencies which PM Should have and those are

1.Technical knowledge, 2 Leadership & 3. Strategic & business management

The estimation and risk management aspects of project comes under the technical knowledge management areas of project management such as resource/cost/activity estimation and risk management.

In Practice, the PM are found frequently rely on the expert judgement for both estimation purpose and risk management.

Lets understand from an example of estimate - suppose there is a project to develop suite of test cases for testing a web site using a tool called Selenium.

Now, the best resource to "estimate" how much time will be required to complete such suite could be a technical test architect who has previously worked on a tool such as Selenium & "knows" how much time each test case takes to develop using this tool.

The PM himself might never has used this tool and hence he cannot say for sure how much time it will take to develop the test suite & in such case PM has to rely on this technical expert's judgement as far as estimation is concerned.

However, what PM Must know regarding the estimate is below key points,

  1. how it was developed
  2. explain/document all the assumptions made while estimating
  3. list down any known constraints
  4. indicate the confidence level of the estimates

So essentially, apart from being aware of personal expertise, PM must know to find others with the needed expertise, to be successful as project manager.

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