Giving high level estimates to client without commiting to numbers



  • I'm working as project delivery manager of a Software Development Company. Often before project initiations, a long time and loyal customer contact me directly to request 'estimate' for some works that is to be done on their system.

    Often these requests come with a very high level descriptions. To be highlighted, they are not yet asking for Quotations at that point. They (the person, often my counterpart on the clients company or his team member) virtually ask me to do their homework in producing high-level estimates for their reports or meetings.

    To give more fuller picture, my company have been servicing the client for sometime. Longer than some of the client's managers and engineers have been working there. We do not have blanket contract that cover out-of-contract requests such as this. So, on strictly a contractual basis, we are not required to entertain such requests. But my company owner advises me to entertain such requests nonetheless because it foster good relationship with the client and at least puts us ahead of the game when or if the project goes into open bidding. And frankly, I agree with her.

    The problem here is that when I do issue estimates in numbers such as dollar cost, man-days requirements, or time frames. The number often come up in some budget meeting or some project charter. People inside make commitments based on it. And when it come the time to submit formal quotations my company is often held against those numbers. Often, the scope of work have grown somewhat.

    My question is this: How best to communicate to the clients that the estimate is by no means binding. It is a 'ongoing discussion' thing. Any numbers arises from there be it dollar costs or time frames are not a commitment from me or my company.



  • Slight frame challenge: consider providing your estimates as the wide-end of a https://www.construx.com/books/the-cone-of-uncertainty/ rather than a discrete number.

    "I need a [vague thing], how long would it take?"

    "Okay, I discussed it with my team, and we think it'll take somewhere between 2 and 7 weeks."

    "I need an exact estimate."

    "Then we'll need exact details. Our estimate for the details you have given is 2 to 7 weeks."

    "Okay, what about [less vague thing]?"

    "Oh, that would be 3 to 5 weeks."

    Providing your estimates as a range bakes your uncertainty into the estimate itself so that there is then no need for a separate 'but we're not fully committing to this estimate' step.




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