How We Estimate Project Scope and Why We Don’t

Squares

Willing your vision into something concrete can lead to some soul-crushing realizations.

Spoiler alert. It’s us, we’re the agency presenting you with an ice bucket to gently pour over your head. It hurts us to be completely honest about what’s to come, but it’s all for the best and we’ll tell you why.

The Pitfalls of Overpromising

What is the difference between overpromising and false promises? There isn’t one, really, as the former is the polite version of the latter.

We don't like dealing with this type of semantics, and our approach to handling a project scope is to give it to you straight. Let's illustrate how overpromising can become the quicksand all of us can gradually sink into.

Expectations vs Reality: an Inevitable Clash

When a client tells us about the product they have in mind, we’re all ears. And it’s so easy to say “yes” to every idea that comes to mind and start applying the design thinking framework. However, we all know not all of them are possible to implement and that:

Feature prioritization is the backbone of product development.

But let’s say we do over-commit and tell the client it’s all smooth sailing from here. In fact, all they have to do is sit back and wait for the launch of their perfect product.

What happens next?

Usually, the anxiety creeps in fast. Either we’re not moving forward from the initial phases of the project. Or we progress quickly but discover a major issue that significantly slows down the process.

Panic ensues.

We scramble to re-group, everyone is on edge, and no one is happy. And mind you – enjoying projects and experiencing the joy of co-creation is the driving force we rely on. It’s important to us.

The False Sense of Security

No agency starts by willingly planning to deceive their client. However, if their updates consist only of good news, the client isn't getting the full picture. The team working on the product is likely putting fires left and right and overworking themselves to the detriment of everyone.

Meanwhile, the client is unaware that the expectation they have, and the entire project scope, are not realistic and haven't been from the start.

While to some this way of work falls into the "this is how it’s always been” category, it’s not how we do things.

There’s a Better Way

It's crucial to reiterate that our process is based on design thinking methodology. It gives us the scaffolding support that we can transform into support for your product. However, because design thinking is a user-centric process and relies on collective expertise, it's not the most predictable.

We’ve worked through all design thinking phases on various projects before and that taught us a valuable lesson.

In the past, we over-promised and over-committed to a goal and eventually regretted it.

But we grew as a company and learned that estimating a project scope is a fool’s errand.

The product is a lot like a “living and breathing” matter, an entity that requires our full attention and dedication. We commit to it wholeheartedly and want to see it thrive.

But for that to happen, we must be able to look at the way things are, not how we want them to be. And while we love solving problems and coming up with creative solutions, that takes effort and time.

Talking Specifics

Let’s take a step back and consider what the “run of the mill” project scope estimation looks like. Usually, one of the two scenarios unfolds.

Option one is to take on high-level project requirements, which is typically the case. Option two is to create intricate user stories and requirements, which happen infrequently. But either way you slice it, we're trying to scan the crystal ball and predict the future.

We know it’s gut-wrenching to hear this but - there is NO POSSIBLE WAY for us to know what’s going to happen until we actually start working on the project.

Some would be quick to point out that that’s what the infamous “buffer” is for. Or they’d call upon our “previous experience” and demand specific scope estimations.

Sure, we could do that, and we DO that. But we also know that the outcome certainties won’t change. Also, the number of variables is either the same or it increases.

It is worth stating and reiterating repeatedly – product development is complex. It forces us to expand the limits of our adaptability. Each project deserves that from us.

So, What Then?

We don’t jump the gun and commit to the project scope based on what are hopeful estimations, at best. It’s not about presenting you with documentation for a project without obstacles in sight. Instead, we’ll commit to an “MVP of the scope” (trademark pending).

Firstly, this means that from us, the client does receive a commitment towards the best possible product we can deliver. Furthermore, it means that our preference IS to start with a "high-level list of requirements and features" for the project.

On top of that, we WILL give our client an ESTIMATE, but in the most literal sense of the word. It’s vital not to use the terms “project estimate” and “launch date” interchangeably. There’s a stark difference between the two.

However, we do offer a timeframe in which a client gets a product or features that does what we mapped it out to do. Still, we don’t specify how exactly it will do that or whether it would be the best possible version of a specific feature.

Will it have all the super nice details or just the basic features? That is determined in the Ideation phase of the design thinking process. Once we move on from this phase, we can get a little crazy with ideas and solutions.

From that point, it’s easier to move back to the Define phase and re-assess initial estimations. If everything is looking good, we enter the Design/Prototype phase of the design thinking framework. But if we discover problems, feature re-prioritization is the logical next step.

The goal is to find the best way a client can get the “MVP of the scope” we promised.

We KNOW our process leads to better outcomes and here’s why.

Full Awareness and Transparency

Words like “awareness,” “authenticity,” “transparency,” or “commitment” saturate the online space these days. You see them thrown around so much, what they mean slowly starts to dissipate.

They’re also present when discussing product building. So, what do these words mean to Kroon?

They simply mean that a client knows about everything that goes on and receives timely updates, even if it’s bad news. Being in the loop trumps living in blissful ignorance.

Sometimes, the initial stages of design thinking (Empathize & Define) are those that take the longest.

Hence, for us, there's no "we’ll be done with this release in three weeks, no problem” only to realize it’s going to take three months. However, the client knows about every step and quickly understands why we don’t make arbitrary deadlines.

The same sentiment applies if we’re able to move through the initial stages fast. What if we get stuck in the Implementation phase and need to go back to empathize or ideate again?

Design thinking encourages innovation and teamwork, but it also forces you to look back and re-evaluate. That’s a good thing, and our clients are there with us for the entire journey.

Informed Decision-Making

Let’s not forget that the product we’re building is yours. Our experience and expertise are valuable and our dedication to the process is unquestionable. At the end of the day, though, the client controls the direction of the project.

Therefore, we want you to have all the necessary facts to make fully informed decisions. If we work through this together, you’ll have an amplified sense of control based on real data.

If you have to cut features or budget for different additions, the decision-making process is going to be a lot less painful.

Dedicated Support for Your Vision

We've thought long and hard about what we truly want to accomplish as a company. Treating projects as assembly line items, is not it.

We take all the unknowns and risks involved into account upfront and approach a project scope differently. This is the smarter way to go because it gives YOU more control. It also works incredibly well with the design thinking methodology. 

Being a part of this process allows you to get a better grasp of other areas of your business. You’ll stress less about the budget, know what to communicate to other departments in your company, and keep all stakeholders appeased.

Our clients can expect our empathy, thoroughness, and unwavering support. We don't want you sitting on the sidelines, we want us to take product-building strides together.

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