Hi, my name is Damian, and I have a problem with the current state of estimating in creative agencies. Do you also have an agency that is averse to estimating? Have things gotten out of hand? Hurt feelings? Damaged relationships? Maybe it’s time to start the healing process and have an intervention. Let’s review a 12-step program that can lead your creative agency to a rehabilitated estimating process.
Step 1: Stop the Denial
The first hurdle your team will need to overcome is the denial that estimating even has value! You may have objections from team members about project complexity or client constraints that prevent estimates from being accurate. It is important to establish the fact that estimating is a process answer to a business problem. The effects of estimating reverberate throughout the entire agency.
Step 2: You Gotta Have Faith
To break the ice, start the process off with a preliminary estimate or ballpark figure. This precursor exercise will ease trepidation or fear of mis-estimating. Even if this figure isn’t necessarily passed along to the client for approval, it gives your team a framework to perform within, and a target to shoot for.
As the project strategy begins to shape up, so will your estimate as revisions are made and, if necessary, a change order is issued.
Step 3: Surrender to a Higher Power
Surrender involves turning over trust to the group dynamic by building the right team.
- Establish key team members at each department to gather inputs for hourly resources estimates.
- Facilitate PERT estimating to spread the load of responsibility.
Step 4: Make a List
Build the right kind of reporting system and they will come. You cannot simply throw a number out and hope for the best. Track its performance through metrics and keep a cumulative record of estimate performance over time.
Build trust by keeping a scoreboard of estimate success. If you’re right more often than wrong, you’ll build compliance organically.
Step 5: Share Your List
The only certainty of an estimate is that it will certainly be wrong. Be very apparent with numbers that are off. Let team members point out what expectations were unreasonable and why. They’ll come away feeling like a hero and the team will come away with more valuable information for next time.
Step 6: Leave the Past Behind
If the culture can be accepting of the fact that estimates are living documents, you will see a shift in attitude and consequently in compliance from your stakeholders. Adding change orders for out-of-scope requests will go a long way to winning converts.
Step 7: Humility
Abstain from the urge to make excuses for a poor estimate and rather, learn from it. Let it guide your predictions in the future and lead your team to salvation. Estimating is ultimately a guessing game.
Step 8: Making Amends
As your system begins to take off, communicate progress to the key stakeholders. Show them the value of your work with specific examples. A communication plan to project stakeholders is key to success. Treat your estimating implementation like any other project and create that short list of people that you need to impress with success.
Step 9: Forgiveness
Don’t punish folks for falling off of the wagon. Reiterate, with positive messaging, the value added by using your system. If you see folks reverting to old ways, i.e., moving projects forward without estimating, create a retroactive estimate.
The idea is, something is better than nothing!
Your system will not function with holes and gaps in data. If you don’t get compliance from users, take ownership and show them right way to do, even if it’s after the fact.
Step 10: Maintain
The system works if you work the system. Establish a step for estimate creation in every project schedule, no exceptions. Give estimating the look and feel of standard operating process and eventually it will become just that.
Step 11: Making Contact
A successful estimate can feel serendipitous – Did the estimate guide the project, or did the project guide the estimate? Transcendence is attained knowing you have pleased a higher power than us all – the client.
Step 12: Service
As with any process change, you need to control the implementation over time. This means periodic reviews, adaptive adjustments, and an attitude of continual improvement. If your firm practices any level of Kaizen you will know this is no easy task, but one well worth the effort.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are some of your obstacles to successful estimating in your creative agency?