Politicizing the Estimate–Someone Might Need To Look Good

When creating a project’s estimated cost it is often acceptable to pad or low ball the estimate depending upon the audience and intent.  For Scotty in Star Trek it was multiplying his actual estimates by four.  But Scotty’s audience was a fictional captain, and a loyal fanbase.  

Quite a few of the projects I’ve worked on involve logistical transportation of equipment by rail and by air.  In the case of rail movement the wooden blocks used to secure the rail cargo can sometimes be defective.  Padding the estimated number of blocks by 15% is an approved practice that has helped make me successful as some of the blocks will naturally be defective or damaged as part of transport.

For air movement each type of aircraft has certain restrictions on load capacity and placement of the load.  Accuracy is paramount and nothing but the actual weights and balances for the equipment is authorized.  For this type of estimate the loadmaster is the intended audience.  Since he is responsible for the safety of the cargo accurate information is valued above all else.

Low-balling a project’s estimate can also be a valuable tool.  In this scenario the company may be better off choosing one project over another.  Low-balling the estimate to entice the organization to choose the project may be acceptable, but hopefully the margin of error isn’t large enough to call into question the integrity of the project manager.  

A high estimate that results in a lot of cost savings at the end could serve to enhance the reputation of the project manager within the organization.  While the cost saving version may be easier to distinguish and measure, an accurate projection met on budget and on schedule is a highly commendable feat.  According to payscale.com the average salary for an IT project manager in the U.S. is nearly $85,000.  The website also lists bonuses and other benefits ranging between approximately $15,000 and $20,000.  The potential to take home between 17%-23% of one’s income based upon performance against this measuring stick is certainly an influence to be conscious of the product as a useful tool.

Call me old fashioned by I’d prefer to be known for the accuracy of my estimates.  It could be my father’s voice in my head reminding me that honesty is the best policy or just the fact that honesty has worked for me this far.  I’ll still apply an industry approved margin of error, but I’ll be transparent about it in my report.

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