Define investment and value

Clients expect to see a return on the investment. Estimates outline the necessary investment to produce the outcomes captured during the workshop. Some clients opt to invest a predetermined amount and expect to receive a predetermined feature set; others stand up a team and iterate over a specific theme, maximizing the return with rapid releases and learning from users.

Example of estimate artifacts - scope, effort, assumptions, risk modifiers, team composition
Example of estimate artifacts

Clients care about outcomes. While estimates are important for budgeting, day-to-day demonstrated value trumps accuracy of a spreadsheet.

Ask tough questions about the budgeting process during the workshop. By the proposal stage you should have a clear understanding of the funding source, the sponsor, and the best methods to successfully navigate. Some organizations will budget first and request proposals later. Others will use the bidding process to self-inform about costs of a product build and then engage in a budgeting process. Both scenarios present challenges, but it’s important for us to be aware of client’s expectations and reach alignment. In other words, can desired outcomes be achieved with the allocated budget?

To use an analogy, should we build a highly reliable but affordable Honda or invest more and produce something that not only ticks off functional requirements but also delights a passionate driver? The depth of the feature set, the gold plating, and the microinteractions all have an impact on where the team lands with the estimate.

In some instances, use the proposal and estimate as tools to request additional funding. We’ve had clients use an MVP release to start gathering adoption analytics from their users and then leveraged corresponding data to secure additional funding for a much deeper product roadmap.

Advanced buyers (typically software companies familiar with product delivery) often buy team throughput versus scope. In a couple of instances, the Devbridge team demonstrated expertise to the most senior stakeholders and the purchasing decisions were mandated on the spot with a simple agreement on team count and size—so while starting to do business was easy and quick, the results were closely monitored for quality and speed.

Estimating as a team

The estimation process starts with the workshop. Make sure the workshop team represents all disciplines—PM, design, and engineering. Set an expectation of active participation from the team, because it leads to an estimation exercise connecting to the anticipate workflow.

It’s important for the team to

  • ask questions and make sure requirements are cohesive, understood, and there are no obvious gaps (unknowns);
  • identify risks early;
  • represent individual practices and know-how (remember that the workshop is also a design exercise for the final product);
  • suggest potential design and technical solutions; and
  • pinpoint pitfalls/deviations from industry standards.
  • Once the workshop is over, the same team works together to assemble a detailed estimate to
  • indicate the expected level of effort per discipline;
  • outline the level of understanding acquired during/after the workshop by articulating assumptions and technical solutions;
  • note complexity and risks;
  • suggest delivery team size and composition;
  • propose delivery timeline; and
  • provide a basis for discussion and/or negotiation with the client on the scope.
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Set expectations
The Secret Source by Aurimas Adomavicius

About the author

Aurimas Adomavicius is the president and co-founder of Devbridge. When not in the trenches working with clients, Aurimas is an active speaker and writer on product design and engineering best practices.