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Buffer Time

Buffer time, in project management, is the extra time added into a time estimate to keep a project on track. The purpose of this leeway in planning is risk management. It allows project managers to be able to account for unforeseen situations without having to change the coordination of a project in a major way.

This time may be officially designated as a buffer, or it may be built into tasks. 

There are two general types of buffer time.

  • Project buffer time
  • Task buffer time

Project buffer time is the time that is added to the end of the project (or at various critical points along the way) that is managed by the project manager.

Task buffer time is specific to individual tasks along the way. Sometimes this form of buffer is officially reported to the project manager, but more often, it is embedded in the task time. For instance, an engineer may think that designing a new fixture will take four days, but reports five to give a little bit of buffer time to himself.

Project managers (PMs) prefer to have all the buffer time consolidated. They want aggressive estimates from team members. Then the PM can parcel out the buffer time wherever it is needed. This keeps the total project time down.

Team members, on the other hand, like to control their own buffer time so they don’t appear to be late on deliveries. The downside of this method is that Parkinson’s Law sneaks in and results in people using up the buffer time, or allowing scope creep to set in, when there is a bit of ‘extra’ time.


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