Developers: Be Less Exact, Make Better Estimates

This is an excerpt from The Project Estimation Guide. If you found this useful, you can download another sample chapter here.

It takes us 3.65 hours to design and implement a contact form.

I used to work for a web agency that wrote fixed quotes based on hourly estimates. When a member of the sales team is on a call, they are going to have to face a common question from clients at some point:

  • Go back to the development team, and ask them for estimates. This would require feedback from both designers and developers.
  • Take those numbers and multiply them by $XXX.
  • Report those numbers back to the client.
  • The client would then ask for a justification of the price.
  • The salesperson would go back to the designers and developers and asked them why it took “so many hours”.
  • Designers and developers would either give an answer that the salesman didn’t understand or give the salesman an answer that the client wouldn’t.
  • ???
  • Profit.

Precision != Accuracy

After three projects, we had the following data:

  • Project 2 — contact form: 5.25 hours
  • Project 3 — contact form: 3.24 hours

It takes us between two and six hours to design and implement a contact form.

This estimate is far less precise. However, based on our data, it’s 100% accurate. Every single contact form mentioned was delivered in more than 2 and less than 6 hours.

Always Think In Ranges.

Being too precise is our enemy. Programmers don’t get a lot of precision because as soon as we something figured out well enough to be precise, we’ll automate it and the time it takes will approach zero. For each estimate, we are going to think about reasonable worst case and best case scenario. Strive for hitting the mark inside of your range 90% of the time.

Quotes, Estimates, and Promises

If you are a freelancer that bills your clients based on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis, I’d strongly recommend always sending your proposals with ranges included. This will help you reinforce with your client that your estimate is just that and that the price is subject to change.

In what timeframe can you guarantee you can deliver the work?

If you think a part of a project will take 3.65 hours, that may be a good guess, but can you guarantee that? You have to leave yourself some margin or you won’t be in business for very long.

Business Consultant and Software Engineer. Provides Technical Expertise to Creative Agencies. Consulting offerings at

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