Why we don’t give ballpark estimates

‘Just give me a ballpark’. Why we don’t do that!

“How much will it cost?” is a common question we receive.

“I won’t hold you to it,” people say about the ballpark estimate. And yet they do! A ballpark figure anchors your expectations to a meaningless figure.

It’s tempting to try and give a ballpark answer. Our instinct is to please you. But if we did, we’d be doing you a huge disservice. This article explains why and how we estimate your software projects.

The first clue is in the last sentence, it’s your software project. It’s designed for your business and you receive all the value and benefits it brings. But to deliver that, time is needed to understand your desired result and determine the risks.

Bespoke software is not an object but a collection of hundreds and thousands of decisions

We can and do make certain decisions for you but we need your guidance to make the rest.

An important part of that process requires your knowledge. What is the value of this feature or project working for you? We can make an educated guess about your needs and goals but we could be wrong. Who wants to guess when we can know what you want? We wouldn’t want to give you a motorbike when you’ve assumed we’re giving you a car.

Working together is a getting to know you process

When creating a product, service or a solution, you can never predict the precise time it will take. And yet we tend to estimate price, at the start when we all know the least about the project. At that point, you won’t know what it’s like to work with us, and we don’t know the way you work. Do you need a lot of hand-holding? Will we be on the same wavelength? There will be things you didn’t know you needed to tell us, and things we didn’t know we needed to ask. Ask any two developers to develop the same thing and they will each take a different amount of time to do it.

We navigate human uncertainties. Robotics is not our field.

My mentor once told me of the fallacy of professionals estimating perfectly, and standing by their estimate. True professionals never make promises where they shouldn’t. A surgeon with 30 years experience will be confident and capable but will never make promises about the outcome. Until they get to work on the procedure, he or she will never know. As software professionals, we too must acknowledge the uncertainty in our projects. We do so without shame or embarrassment.

We will only build anything exactly like this for you

From the first, we point out that we have never built anything exactly like this for someone like you. We achieve results by applying responsible, structured, disciplined practices to discover the problem. We inform you about any risks or uncertainty and keep you, the client, in the driver’s seat about your budget.

If you don’t need something, we will not build it

Value is our watchword. We are not afraid to say no, and push back if the value you expect to gain is not evident. To bring this level of understanding, we apply time and care to the problem. Through our shared discovery we identify what you should be doing and what you should not be doing. We may also suggest alternative solutions that will provide you with a valuable return.

Do you want to work on assumptions or be in safe hands?

A ballpark estimate is what you pay for it. It’s difficult to navigate a mountain of assumptions. Reality has a way of being different. In case you haven’t guessed, we don’t estimate for free. We start every project with a carefully planned roadmap so that we are prepared for any bumps on the path to a smooth implementation.

About the author

Andy Henson specialises in practical, yet creative, business solutions. Drawing on his experience, he couples the latest in technological thinking with a sound knowledge of business.