Saturday, May 8, 2010

It's like herding cats... ...if you're a mouse!

Estimators. The bane of your life or your superstars?

Here is an interesting viewpoint on The Life of an Estimator. Now I have
worked through all phases of projects and done my share of estimating and I have to say, I'd be inclined to agree with the article. Especially the lose-lose situation post submission, where if you win the job, everyone scrutinizes your work and you become the scapegoat for every flaw down the line in the project. This is the "how come we won this? what did you miss?" attitude.

The opposing situation is when you are expected to cover every cost eventuallity, yet still manage to submit a competitive bid. This is when you will be blamed for the bid not being successful.

Personally, I have found that the biggest problem with the role (and many others until you reach a more senior position in the organizational hierarchy - and sometimes even after unfortunately!) is being given lots (all?) of the responsibility, but none of the authority. Estimators are typically not viewed with too high a regard, although they are ultimately responsible for getting a successful bid out on time, yet they must manage and influence senior management figures in the company without having any authority to impose deadlines other than indicating a tardy response will make the bid late.

They are constantly operating in a mode of conflict with their superiors, hence the analogy in the title. "It's like herding cats!", is generally trotted out to represent something difficult, but it is from the viewpoint of an empowered individual trying to co-ordinate playfully wayward resources, consider the difficulty when the prey is trying the shepherd the hunter.

Now, admittedly, prey and hunter may be going slightly over the top, but the dynamic is certainly akin to that. Another big problem for estimators is burnout and lack of motivation.

Burnout. An estimator is constantly cramming for an exam, the bid submission and review. They are expected to know every detail of their project, but then post submission, that memory gets purged and they move on to the next assignment and the process repeats. With the high intensity work stress is a big factor too.

Typically it is easy to get attendance at initial kick-off and final bid review meetings, but it is the meetings and co-ordination in-between that is difficult to pin people down for (because they have many different competing time demands, fine, but they should be confident enough in their subordinates to delegate, not do). It is disheartening for estimators to have sent out files for review that they have laboured over to build up costs or productivity from first principles, only to have people breeze into a review, attempt to study the calculation, fail and then insist instead on their rule of thumb being used.

So estimators are often perceived as being cranky. I'd have to say I agree, but also that the role either attracts a certain "special" individual, or the demands of the job makes them that way!

"I'll be back..."

P.S. By the way, it has just come to my attention that this site is called Herding Cats and is a project management blog. I don't recall seeing it before I wrote this post, but it is possible I did and it subliminally affected me...  Regardless, the analogy is certainly a good one.

1 comment:

  1. P.P.S. I should add, a seasoned estimator once told me a long time ago that the best estimates are the ones where you come a close second to the winning bid. That way, it is clear you did a good job on the estimate, but you don't have the worries about what have you missed / will the job make money at that price! Obviously we like to win best, but I do see his point of view...