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The improbable project estimation tool

Martin Vaughan
December 15, 2011

I’m dreaming of an estimating tool…

  • Which is easy to use
  • And doesn’t cost too much
  • Which provides a repeatable output
  • And caters to the needs of finance (e.g. capex vs opex)
  • Which provides time phased data
  • Did I mention easy to use?
  • And aligns to a work breakdown structure (WBS), in fact it probably needs to help capture/build the WBS
  • But allows for detailed line item estimates
  • Treating labour, materials and fixed price contracts differently
  • Which aligns to a rate table for labour, in fact it probably needs to help capture/build the rate table
  • But has to be easy to use
  • Which can be centrally controlled (e.g. rate table)
  • That captures uncertainty in estimates
  • And considers risks (costs of response plans) as well as contingency
  • Which allows for analysis and drill down (e.g. labour versus materials)
  • But separates the raw estimate from the marked-up quote
  • Did I mention easy to use?

Is it possible? We thought we would put the question to readers out there, is there such a tool?  We don’t want to promote lobbying from tool vendors here, just tap into the knowledge of the project management community to overcome what we see as a definite need. The focus is on business/IT projects more so than engineering, mining, defence or construction projects.

Uniquely, business/IT projects currently have no formal feedback of history into future estimating. History is a major input into estimating. The other aspect they lack is the concept of a dedicated quantity surveyor or estimator role, meaning inexperienced project managers and others often do the estimates.

Meanwhile, do we persevere with our spreadsheets?  Our company took the approach of developing our own Visual Basic driven spreadsheet tool to solve the problem. It isn’t bad, but we are not a tool vendor. Any feedback on what other organisations are doing would be of interest.

We will compile results in a future blog.

Martin Vaughan
Martin Vaughan started his career as a specialist planner/scheduler in construction before moving to defence, then into IT. He progressed through project management and program management into consulting and advisory roles. Meanwhile he maintained an interest in tools and technology, on the way building and managing small businesses and squeezing in some lecturing in IT Project Management at the University of Melbourne. He is now a director and senior consultant at Core Consulting Group.
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