What went wrong?

Apr 03, 2017

If you want to boost your project profits, analyze past failures, and use that knowledge to craft winning estimates.

We have all had projects that for some reason did not meet our financial expectations. Over-budget projects happen for many reasons, including bidding on the wrong one to begin with, underestimating the number of hours needed to successfully complete the job, failing to allow for delays and problems, or just not knowing the client well enough to anticipate what they really wanted.

Not only does your firm lose the profit margin associated with budget overruns, but they can also have a negative impact on client relationships and cause stress for your teams as they try to minimize the losses.

A great deal of value can be gained by analyzing past project failures to understand what went wrong, and designing safeguards, processes, and approvals to minimize the chances they happen again. The following are three of the most common issues with developing accurate estimates, and some structure and practices you can put in place to turn past project disasters into lessons that add protection for future jobs:

  • Understanding the client’s expectations. One of the most common problems in accurately developing a project scope is estimating a project before having all the necessary information. This happens for many reasons including the estimators’ inexperience and lack of training, absence of a structured approach to project estimating, and just moving too fast – often at the client’s request. By evaluating the steps your team is following to create project estimates, and implementing a detailed and documented process to gather requirements, you can eliminate a lot of the guessing that occurs because not enough time and care is given to truly understand what the client’s expectations are. An estimating checklist can provide some guidance as to what questions need to be asked and the information needed to be collected to develop a sound scope. The more you can understand the level of quality, communication style, and preferences of your prospective client, the more you can build an estimate that meets their requirements and justifies your scope.
  • Anticipate everything that can go wrong. As mentioned above, one of the best ways to determine what can go wrong on projects is to review past projects and create a list of things that have gone wrong and situations that you want to avoid. Once the list is assembled, create a team of staff at different levels and analyze why money was lost because of each issue. Then brainstorm remedies to ensure that the leakage does not happen again.
  • Build in room for changes. Another important lesson that can be learned from past project overruns is that they will almost always occur! You can plan for changes and other issues that will cause projects to go over budget by ensuring that every project has a separate line item for contingencies. This could be an extra 10 to 20 percent that is only used when needed, but helps everyone, including your clients, plan for changes that will drive the budget up. You can also educate your clients – in advance of winning a project – about the possible changes they might want or need, and make sure they understand all the options available to them and the related cost. This will eliminate some of the “surprises” that can cause tension and disagreements about what extra services are really needed. By establishing estimating templates that account for all the possible changes and include a line for contingencies you can ensure that your staff are following best practices and are aware of all possible options while creating the estimate.

Neither you nor your clients want your project to go over budget. By learning from past project experience, and building safeguards into your estimating processes, you can protect both your firm and your clients’ budgets from exploding. Your clients will appreciate your professional approach and be much happier in the end as well!

What else have you done to ensure your estimates are accurate?

June Jewell is president of AEC Business Solutions. Connect with her on LinkedIn and learn more about how to improve your firm’s financial performance at aecbusiness.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.