My friend Ralph has been in the technical communication business even longer than I have. When I asked him for some pointers on estimating project budgets, he said without hesitation, “You know, it’s more art than science.”
For me, that phrase conjures the friendly alien in Galaxy Quest who said “the operation of the conveyor [transporter] is much more art than science.” That was just before the pig-lizard creature beamed aboard, inside-out, and then exploded all over the conveyor room. Have you ever underestimated a project so badly that it ended up like the pig-lizard? I have.
Although I know Ralph is right, I still wish we had more science to go with the art. I wish we had a few benchmark criteria that we could use for estimating. What that in mind, I’ve listed a few factors that, based on my experience, influence the cost of a project. I’d like your help to add items to this list.
The most reliable factor, by far, is actual cost data from previous, comparable projects. The trick is in the word comparable: is the new project similar enough to an old one to justify using the old one as a starting point?
There’s also the matter of having accurate data from the old project. We any costs hidden from the project’s final balance sheet — for example, translation costs that were borne by the engineering or marketing department?
For me, it’s increasingly unlikely that I’ll find a comparable project to use as a starting point. More and more, each project seems to be a project unto itself. So I’m left having to consider other factors….