Three Point Estimation

Estimating for jobs can be very difficult and painstaking. I’m often asked “how long is this going to take to do?”

I use to take an approach that will likely fill familiar to a lot of people. Which is to evaluate the task and try to think about what it takes to get it done in big buckets and start throwing some numbers at it. For some things this can be fine. But, I found that while my requests seemed simple in nature at first, the ask for what was put on me was actually much more tedious and detail oriented.

So, I started to work with Liz (the Digital Producer at Franklin Street) to try to figure out a better way to do this. We came across a handful of techniques and options. However, we found something coined a “three point estimation system” that looked like it would serve us very well. Here is the source where we stumbled across this: orangehilldev.com/4-essential-project-estimation-techniques-and-tools-for-web-development.

Vedran Opacic at Orange Hill Development goes on to explain the three different types of three point estimation. We found that the system that works best for us is the “standard deviation” setup. But, what we really liked about the three point estimation system is that it forces us to think about every step in the process, and it forces us to think about it in three different ways. These three different ways to think about it are: best-case, worst-case, and most-likely scenarios.

At first we were like this is going to be a lot of work to estimate jobs, and may be worse than before. But, we really liked how it forced our hands to thoroughly think about the process and the details. We also liked how it was going to push us to categorize our process better. Ultimately it ends up setting us up in a way to do an effective evaluation on projects once they get out the door. Because it allows us to be able to specifically point out areas that went well or ended up being a problem.

Here is the Excel template with the three point standard deviation formulate in place. If you want more info on how the formula works look in the tab titled “Formula Info” in that document.

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