The classic mantra: revenue is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king. Regardless of the nature of your organisation, certain factors will always influence profitability and cash flow:
- Explicit factors: the quality of your end product
- Implicit factors: the level of your service
- Bottom-line factors: scoping (requirements, timelines & budgets)
At Nitro Digital we quickly identified the immense importance of the estimation stage for projects to tick the above boxes and be considered ‘successful’ by both supplier and consumer.
We spent a few years trying out different estimation products and processes, with mixed levels of success. In the end, dissatisfied by the options available, we took the plunge and set about establishing our own. For the new product to be a success, the first step was to really understand the challenges that businesses face when estimating, before taking a build, measure, learn approach to implementing solutions.
So, what is stopping organisations from producing consistently great estimates?
A lack of data centralisation
A straightforward principle to start: the whole is only as good as the sum of its parts.
In growing organisations it is common for estimation data (roles, rates, client information, frequently sold services, standard prose) to be held in isolated documents, all with differing schemata. Beyond creating confusion during the estimation process itself, updating inconsistent data sets really transports you to a special place in hell.
The process of discovering what a ‘good estimate’ contained was a small challenge in itself, but it clearly defined the data administration requirements for the product’s System Data interface. This now provides a logical interface for the inputting, growth and maintenance of all estimation data.
Vague estimation accountability
The consultation of specialists was another activity that we were obsessed with integrating into our estimation product. Despite the best intentions, getting subject matter experts involved often consumed a lot of time. I think we are all familiar with Slack conversations going round and round in frustrating circles, while formalised meetings always felt like overkill.
The collaboration, review and Products features of Estimo’s workflow enable client-facing individuals to easily input specialist knowledge to produce meticulous estimates. Then, because of Estimo’s central repository, these validated estimates can be immediately copied for reuse and adaptation.
Content differs from estimate-to-estimate
Most organisations have brand guidelines to ensure a professional impression to their clients, employees and any partners. In their most basic form these guidelines are limited to the inclusion of a logo in the correct place, but are commonly extended to include typography, colours, layout, standard content etc.
With that in mind, except for providing incorrect costs (which we mitigated above), is there anything more damaging during the estimation process than off-brand or incomplete documentation? Especially if appearance or content requirements were defined by a client.
Fortunately, with estimate data now held in a centralised location, producing downloadable outputs was a logical next step. By exporting these in PDF format we were able lock-in their styles, completely aligned with brand guidelines. Estimo now enables Administrators to input their styles and assign clients specific templates. We are planning to extend this functionality in the second half of 2017, making it easy to setup completely customised templates, aligned with all the unique requirements that organisations possess.
A bright future, without guesstimations
At the time of writing (June 2017), Nitro Digital’s Estimo instance is used by over 100 users, holds a repository of nearly 1000 estimates (all available for cloning) and provides over 300 Products for selection. Nitro’s use of Estimo enables specialists from 6 time zones to collaborate in real-time to speedily produce accurate and consistent estimates that win new business. We set out with the desire to create a single point of truth when creating estimates, so that all stakeholders – internal and external – were on the same page. In answering this challenge, the product and processes of Estimo have been a wild success.
Over the past few months we have started to implement Estimo in organisations outside of Nitro, always learning and growing features as we go. Estimo is now ready to exist as an entirely separate entity and hit new heights.
With that in mind, we aren’t going to stop now. This year we want to empower our users to better interrogate the data held in Estimo, and also leverage information from other platforms. Whether you want to understand the volume of raw materials, human hours or pass-through costs required to complete a project, our aim is to provide a greater level of insight at both an individual and management level. This will, ultimately, keep everybody focused upon the core business principles of revenue, profit and cashflow.
Of course, we will making these features available as they are developed, so stay tuned…