January 2023 — 4 minute read

Are estimates your downfall or your love language? A few tips to sway you in the right direction.

Summary: TL;DR
Estimating isn't always the most exciting part of a business, but it's an opportunity to start off on the right foot and build meaningful client relationships. Here are some tips to help you understand why estimates should also be your love language.
  • Start by being open and clear
  • RFPs leave room for confusion
  • Points over hours
  • Getting real with numbers
  • Minimum (or Maximum?) Viable Product
  • Building a lasting relationship

Like countless other businesses, we do our share of estimates. To some, it’s a necessary evil–a hoop to jump through in order for work to come in. At Lelander, we look at it differently. For us, estimating is the starting point for strong client relationships, and we treat it that way. I guess you could say it’s our love language. But, before we get all mushy on you, let’s unpack the process a bit further.

Start by being open and clear

Requirements-gathering is the first and most important step. You want your clients to understand not just what is needed, but also why it’s important. Which takes a bit of back-and-forth. While you may hesitate to divulge sensitive information, it’s important to dive into the financial waters early. After all, you don’t want to get too far into it only to discover much of it is out of budget. Use your time wisely: identifying cost-saving solutions and setting aside items that will never make the cut.

RFPs leave room for confusion

Collecting multiple bids as part of an RFP with rigid controls leaves little room for discovery. And that’s the problem. Information-gathering is essential. Take it away and you’re looking for trouble. The standard bidding process tends to be a problem waiting to happen. Upfront discovery is the solution.

Points over hours

Instead of raw hours, our teams use points to represent estimated time ranges. This keeps us from getting bogged down in details (since design and architecture are rarely finalized at this point). The process begins with user stories. We look at the end user’s perspective to understand what’s needed and what isn’t. Along the way, we have multiple developers score each feature. If there’s a big enough discrepancy between the estimated effort for any given feature, we discuss our differences and agree to common assumptions that bring the scores within a unified range. The goal of a scoring session isn’t to arrive at a safe, comfortable estimate but rather a raw, lean one. Which brings us to our next tip.

Getting real with the numbers

The fact is, projects almost never come in under their lean, point total estimate. Humans tend to be optimistic. Overly so. Knowing there will be unexpected hurdles along the way, we use padding to create a more realistic number. Fifty percent is usually about right. Whatever percentage you come up with, you’ll find that adjusting the padding is way easier than trying to adjust each individual user story.

Minimum (or Maximum?) Viable Product

For some, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the only one you should ever build. We agree to a point. If your audience is discerning, and there’s a brand attached, you may want to aim higher than the bare minimum. We usually go the opposite route and build the Maximum Viable Product…as in the maximum quality and refinement we can deliver within a certain time and budget. We present a budget range, steadily working our way to a final number based on desired core features and level of refinement.

Building a lasting relationship

Estimates take time. The bigger the project the more of it you need. As technology and creative professionals know, time is money. Hours are our go-to unit of sale. If you create a detailed estimate only to find the project is way out of budget, well, we’ve got issues. Don’t be that guy. Share rough estimates early and often. Surprises are no fun for anyone.

The bottom line? If you want your team to get high-fives from the client, you need to invest in the foundational work of estimating. A solid estimate shows your commitment to being a great partner. Who knows where it could go from there. After all, estimates are our love language.

Get in touch.