Estimating a project can be tricky. There are a lot of unknowns and a lot of assumptions being made that may or may not be correct. The primary job when putting together a cost estimation for a project is to whittle these unknowns and assumptions down to their bare roots and figure out what needs further clarification and what is known enough to be estimated. Estimation software often can’t help with that part, that’s what human brains are for!
That said, cost estimation software is helpful for a number of other reasons:
- It can provide a template or a structure to work within
A blank page is not helpful when it comes to starting a new estimate. Having a defined structure is the best case where you can start to fill in the blanks and make use of the template that you have to work from. That way you can focus on the large decisions to be made and not get stuck deciding which font to use or perfecting your Excel template.
- It can speed you up
Good software will allow you to deliver your estimates faster by remembering your team’s hourly rates, allowing you to prefill items as quickly as possible, and allowing you to start from project templates or partials that can be duplicated or even added in the middle of an estimate.
- It can enable more team collaboration
Estimates work better when they are done as a team. Since you don’t know everyone’s job and don’t understand all of the steps that each task will take to complete, it's best to involve your whole team and get their feedback as you put together a project budget. Estimation software can facilitate that and allow your team to communicate back and forth more smoothly.
- It can remove human mistakes
Excel can be a great tool, but with budget spreadsheets being duplicated over and over with increasing complexity being added each time, it is easy for mistakes to pile up. Certain things don’t get totaled correctly, and formulas can easily get off if you aren’t careful. Budgeting software allows you to take your mind off of those issues and focus on the important decisions that really need to be made.
Project Estimation Tools and Software
This tool simplifies the estimation process for agencies and development shops. It allows you to set up project templates that can be reused when needed and gives you a basic structure to work within. You can set up Sections, add Tasks under them, and add Line Items (hourly, daily, weekly, or fixed costs). Once you create your estimates you can share them with your team (or your clients) via Print, PDFs, Excel Exports, or a simple online sharing functionality (admittedly we’re a bit biased, since this is our tool!).
This is one of those pieces of software that seems to do everything including estimates, time tracking, CRM, financials & reporting. If you are looking for a single tool to run your entire agency, then this may be it. That said, it does force you to follow their process and get everyone on board with the tool, which can be a heavy lift for some companies.
Toggl’s Budget Calculator
This is a simple and free tool that allows you to add in your time and budget for each task. It only saves in your browser, so if you clear your cache, then your estimate will disappear, so be careful! That said, it looks nice and functions well, so it may be useful for some people.
This is somewhere between an estimating tool and an invoicing tool. It allows you to put together a nice looking document that includes categories, tasks and hours for those line items. It’s simplicity is nice, but it may be too limited for some companies with more complex needs.
This is another tool that seems to try to do everything for your agency. It does project management, project profitability, and agency management as well. This one is going to take awhile to get everyone up and running in your agency, but once you do, it can provide a lot of valuable insight into your companies billings and processes.
This is a nice tool created by David Sjölander. It does a good job of merging time based estimates on a timeline with your hourly estimates for tasks. The design is friendly and it seems really simple to use. The tool seems to be free right now, so I’m not sure if there are any limitations to what you can create or do with it.
This tool is a little less about estimating and more about scoping a project. It helps you put together whole project proposals that include scope breakdowns and descriptions. It has a number of templates to start with, which include sub tasks that may or may not be required, and descriptions for each task. Once you set up your document templates and break down your project, you can send out a PDF of your proposal to your prospective client.
There is a wide range of project cost estimation software from simple free tools to agency-wide expensive tools and everything in between. It really comes down to the needs of your agency and the tools that you are already using. Sometimes you may need some functionality specific tool to fill a gap that maybe one person or a team has a need for, or sometimes you may be ready to take on whole company software that requires everyone to get on board and make use of the software to see its full value.
I’d love to hear about the needs of your agency and how a budgeting and estimation tool could better meet your unique needs and processes. Share it with us via our contact page if you are willing!