What’s the right approach to a cost estimating solution? Should the user be responsible for the heavy lifting, or should the system handle most of the work?
Those who think the user should handle the heavy lifting envision a system that’s simple and offers a minimal amount of automation—no fancy formulas, no parametric assemblies, no complex cost models, no validation. Maybe a knowledgebase that lacks pricing to force the users to enter the current market price and some basic math to ensure that the numbers add up with basic reporting. The user’s experience is key and the user will ensure that everything (scope, quantification, costs, adjustments) is right. You can pull this off successfully only if you have highly experienced staff.
Those who think the system should handle the heavy lifting look for more automation or a smart system. They want the system to prompt the user to consider things they might forget. They want to capture and share a methodology, to mentor users through the right process, and to ensure consistent and predictable results. They want the system to automatically apply the most recent pricing and validate the estimate against business rules that identify warnings and errors the team might miss in a review session. We’re talking risk management. They want the system to offer numerous reports with lots of options that handle every possible variation, but they also want standard reports so every estimate sent to management is presented in the same format. This approach is often necessary if your talent pool is limited and you have to do more with less.
It’s interesting to watch clients contemplate these seemingly polar opposite approaches to system design. It’s a dial, not a switch, and I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Each organization needs the appropriate mix of user experience and automation.