Don't guess your estimate

 |  By: Kate Jones In: Project management

The backbone to any successful project is the estimate but producing an accurate and appealing estimate is a tricky balancing act. Too expensive and you’re unlikely to win the work, plus you might start to get a reputation. Too cheap and you’ve set the project up to fail before your start.

Good project managers and client service teams use estimates as their guide, spending their days continually tracking time against the estimate. So they know a thing or two about the frustrations of unrealistic estimates.

We’ve spoken to these teams across our network to gain their advice when it comes to producing a solid estimate.

1. Don’t rush

You have an estimate to write and an urgent project to deliver. The temptation is to rush the estimate and focus on the actual client project. But before you know it, you’ve won the work and whoops, did you really include that?

Not only do you run the risk of promising to over-deliver before you’ve started but you could be unintentionally setting yourself up for a contentious relationship down the line. If nothing has been thoroughly scoped with caveats outlined and explained, there’s room for interpretation – yours and your clients.

2. Don’t be vague

In the beginning, the client might not be 100% sure what they want. They may want to be advised along the way or it could be a longer project with many unknowns. It could also be that you don’t know exactly how to deliver their requirements yet as X depends on Y etc.

This is all quite likely and if it’s explained to the client it’s completely reasonable that you can’t estimate unknowns. Rather than blindly promising the earth for their budget, share the specific unknowns and give example costs for the different routes they may want to explore. Be honest about what’s not been costed and have these conversations early.

3. Get Agreement

If you’ve had a casual or late-in-the-day conversation with your client about costs, you may feel everything is fine. However, three, six or even twelve months into the project those conversations get hazy. Plus, the relationship won’t be so fresh. If there are any project frustrations brewing they’ll be looking for an outlet.

Avoid awkward conversations. If you’ve agreed on something cost-related that’s seemingly small don’t let it go, write it into the estimate/subsequent quote. You may feel it’s not necessary at the time but you’ll thank yourself later.

4. Do your research

Unless this is your first project, then you’ll have valuable data available on what’s worked in the past. If you’re using a complete system such as Synergist for your job costing and project management then you’ll have everything you need to accurately estimate based on real-life examples. Don’t guess how long something takes, or rely solely on how long someone says it will take them (some people are eternal optimists) go into your system and see how long it took last time. What slowed the project down, where could it have run more smoothly? Learn from this to produce better estimates in future.

If you would like to know more about how Synergist can help you get control of your estimates, and manage your project successfully through to fruition then there are a number of ways you can get in touch. You can give our implementation partners The Agency Works a call on 01455 553 246, you can book yourself a 15 minute, one-to-one demo or you can join an upcoming webinar.

There’s also some helpful guides and reports in our info hub.