How to Deliver More Accurate Project Estimates in Less Time

October 15, 2019 Yoni Barkan

Like with all great pursuits in life, project estimation is part science and part art. The Art of Estimation relies on the skills and knowledge of the estimator: the ability to elicit the right information, identify the critical components, and translate that into the requirements our companies need to build the product or services our customers want.  

The Science of Estimation lives in the tools and frameworks we develop to support the process. As a reformed Solution Engineer (although we call them Solution Architects at Appirio), I have spent countless hours working with customers and getting yelled at by delivery teams perfecting, or at least attempting to, the Art and Science of Estimation.  

There’s much to say about the Art of Estimation, but for today, let’s focus on the Science. How do we: 

  • Capture customer requirements?  
  • Determine the appropriate level of effort?  
  • Figure out how long something will actually take to complete?  
  • Standardize that across multiple Solution Engineers around the country or the world? 
  • Collaborate with our teams while doing all this?  

These are familiar challenges to those in professional services. We know that scoping and estimating new projects takes more time than we would like, and the tools are often insufficient. We know that a bad estimate will kill a project before it’s even begun — but taking the time to do it right might cause you to lose the deal.    

For years, we have struggled with balancing the need for accurate estimates and getting proposals out quickly. Having just sold PSA to FinancialForce, we knew we had the capability to solve this problem. Our next step was to start developing a tool that could help us organize our thoughts, document project scope, and figure out how much time and effort it would take to do it right. We honed that tool into Estimator.  

Introducing Estimator 

Creating a fast, accurate project scope and estimate is essential. But developing one is time consuming and difficult. Estimator is a tool that can help you shorten your sales cycle, scale service offerings quickly, and set up your teams for success.  

Shorten your sales cycle 

A key challenge for any sales team is to find ways to reduce close time. With Estimator, Sales Engineers save valuable time by leveraging Scope Libraries, the Timeline Builder, and Effort Calculators.  

Scope Libraries

Build your library with proven scope items from successful projects and make those available to your entire team. Add scoping questions to enable users to further refine the project scope for higher accuracy and speed in developing estimates.  

This repository of pre-defined scope enables you to quickly document your customer’s requirements, and then to collaborate and iterate with them. You can quickly search the Scope Library by name, group, or practice to find the right match.  

Designate favorites to filter your most used templates. Estimator enables you to define reusable templates for any kind of project. With templates, you can quickly build a project scope and save customizations for later use.  

Effort Calculator 

Once you define the scope, you can define the level of effort. You can build out the full work breakdown structure or Input hours for one core resource. The calculator does the rest—it defines the roles and capacity you need. 

Timeline Builder and Library 

The Timeline Builder is a powerful time-saving feature in Estimator. Create a project timeline by selecting a template from the Timeline Library or create one from scratch.  

Like with the Scope Library, the Timeline Library is where you can immortalize past timelines that are great starting points for your future projects. Adjust project phase durations, add specifics like milestones and signoffs, and define the roles and hours needed by each.  

Utilize the pricing engine to fully refine an estimate by defining the contract type and adding in travel and expense costs. Experiment with various project discounts and see the impact on ASM immediately. The Timeline also shows offshore and blended fees and allows you to add fixed fee buffers, which gives you plenty of flexibility when you’re building estimates. 

If you use FinancialForce today, Estimator automatically leverages your current Rate Cards, Practices, Regions, and Skills to seamlessly integrate Estimator into your existing process. 

Scale quickly and set your teams up for success 

Creating a scoping model for a new service line can be cumbersome. But roles, rates, and staffing rules all exist in Estimator, so you can easily apply them to a new project or product type.   

Estimator is designed to get everyone aligned before the project starts. Define expectations using scope templates. As a native Salesforce application, you can use Salesforce Chatter to collaborate with your teams at every step. 

Want to learn more? Schedule a demo and check out our listing on the AppExchange. We would love to talk about how you can estimate your projects more accurately without sacrificing your valuable time.  

Going to Dreamforce this year? Come visit us in Moscone South at Booth #1512 or in the Trailhead zone. 

About the Author

Yoni Barkan

Yoni Barkan is Appirio’s VP of Products and Innovation and loves to explore new ways to leverage cloud solutions to close the experience gap. Yoni’s work has been focused within the CRM space since 2003 and includes projects ranging from education to manufacturing to government. He spent many years documenting scope, building timelines, allocating resources and pricing projects with Estimator. Yoni now lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn (the land of strollers and dogs), with his two children, lovely wife, and cuddly little 85-pound pit bull. He was born, raised, and educated in California. (Go Bears!)

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