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Mastering the Art of Reliable Estimation in Digital and IT Projects

  • March 11, 2024

By Fritz Wüthrich, Head of International Markets, Galorath Incorporated

In the multifaceted world of digital and IT projects, especially in sectors like banking, insurance, and government, where operations often exceed $2 billion (US) in revenue and workforce numbers surpass 20,000 employees, the precision of project cost estimation is not just advantageous—it’s pivotal. Although agile businesses and their digital organizations don’t need estimation on an operational level, business leaders depend on early estimations as a critical factor in judging strategic investment decisions on the project portfolio.

The following explores the evolution of estimation practices, challenges and best practices, and the utilization of advanced cost estimation tools to transform the estimation of notional project design from a complex challenge into a strategic asset in project management.

Evolving Estimation Practices in the Digital Era

The shift from traditional, expert intuition-based estimation to a data-driven approach in Digital and IT projects marks a significant evolution in project estimation. This transition has been catalyzed by the digital transformation across sectors, necessitating more precise and reliable estimation methods. Estimations in a project’s early phases must rely on little information, although the complexity, i.e., a consumer engagement app, can be high. The task at hand is equivalent to estimating the shape and size of an iceberg while you can only see the tip of it.

Modern tools for early requirements management and project definition enable you to crack through the technical complexity of projects and their multidisciplinary nature and yet still offer the magic of accurate estimations.

Challenges and Best Practices

While scope volatility and unclear objectives present challenges, they also offer opportunities to refine stakeholder engagement and communication strategies; the fact that no project is identical accentuates these. To combat these issues, early stakeholder engagement, setting clear objectives, and maintaining open communication channels are of critical importance.

Inherent to the standard work methods in early-stage digital and IT projects, project requirements and specifications are usually captured through unstructured data, often in freeform diagrams and narration. Would it be helpful to model the nature of a project with its complexity, size, and other variables as if it were a Lego® brick construct, or allow a remodeling as need be and an automated recalculation of cost and other factors? The answer is absolutely, and it’s possible. Moreover, adopting best practices like data-enabled project review methodologies and structured stakeholder involvement can mitigate these challenges, ensuring project alignment with strategic goals and timely delivery.

Today’s IT professionals must employ five key strategies to enhance the performance of Digital and IT projects and ensure they deliver value on time and within budget.

1. Transform loosely defined requirements into structured estimation data: Early phases in projects need to cope with the challenge of laying the foundation regarding financials, architecture, and project scheduling. Structured data enables more reliable estimations and planning.

2. Adopt purposeful data and tools: Choosing the proper set of data and tools that fit the nature of the project is imperative. At this critical point, an architect and the project initiator will have to build a business case that forms the basis for crucial decision-making by the project sponsor.

3. Technical and content mastery: Predict the needs of experts in terms of capacity and schedule and ensure the acquisition of essential internal and external talent to master the technological and content aspects of the project. In the early phases of a project, this can change multiple times a day; having the suitable tools and data makes this either a manageable challenge or a mission impossible.

4. Risk management and critical decision preparation: Communicate the risk exposure and its mitigation strategies along with guiding principles and critical decisions concerning implementation strategies.

5. Adhere to core project management practices: Keep plan data versus as-is data accurate and refine changing conditions in your project plan and financials to facilitate critical stakeholder discussions and 100% accurate data at any decision point.

Incorporating Advanced Estimation Techniques

When leveraging cost estimation tools for digital and IT projects, it’s important to find an IT-dedicated solution that will drive your initiatives forward with actionable data and insights. A few things to look out for, include a user-friendly interface, predictive analytics capabilities, and comprehensive feature sets. A definitive solution for cost estimation and predictive analytics will enable project teams to integrate advanced estimation methods into various stages of project management, leading to significant improvements in time efficiency, planning accuracy, risk management, and resource optimization.

Moreover, when applied to specific project scenarios, Monte Carlo simulations and parametric modeling can significantly enhance cost estimation accuracy. For example, Monte Carlo simulations, which model various possible outcomes to provide probabilistic estimates, are particularly effective in highly uncertain scenarios. On the other hand, parametric modeling uses statistical data to determine cost estimates based on identified project parameters, making it ideal for projects with well-defined scopes.

Promoting Continuous Improvement in Estimation

Implementing a continuous improvement cycle in project estimation involves establishing metrics to measure the effectiveness of estimation processes and using these metrics to drive improvements. Regular training and development are crucial in building a skilled team capable of practical estimation. Organizations can foster a culture of continuous learning by encouraging feedback, conducting post-project reviews, and consistently applying lessons learned to future projects.

Embracing Strategic Estimation

Accurate project cost estimation is foundational to successful project management, financial planning, and client satisfaction. Organizations can elevate their estimation processes by combining data-driven models with expert insights, employing advanced tools, and adhering to best practices. Embracing these strategies aligns project outcomes with business objectives, marking a significant evolution in IT project management.

About Fritz Wüthrich

Head of International Markets at Galorath Incorporated, Fritz Wüthrich is an established thought leader in the Digital and IT industry with more than 30 years of relevant experience. He has domain expertise in the design and business architecture of award-winning Industry 4.0 Digitalization projects that embrace IoT, AI, and Cyberphysical systems. His passion is enabling clients to master the art of digital transformation in cost prediction in the technology domain across Europe, Asia, and Africa.

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