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#1 bobsmith76   User is offline

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what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 20 February 2018 - 01:38 AM

I've started keeping real exact records again of how long it takes to finish tasks. But I still don't have enough records such that I can now judge accurately how long things will take. I remember back in the early days, tasks that I thought would take 40 hours ended up taking 140 hours. After reading the book, Dream in Code, I've now learned that software developing is unusually prone to misunderestimation of the time it takes to complete tasks. Anyway, I have to hire people to do parts of the project that I can't do myself. Till now I've mostly paid them by the hour, and have simply relied on them to tell me the truth. I'm getting tired of this because my freelancers take too long. I realize it's partly perception because I know that tasks 90% of the time take longer to complete than I anticipate. Still, I want to switch to just asking for a fixed price up front. I'm dreading that day however when the freelancer says 'it took twice as long to complete than I thought it would.' Being such a nice guy and not really having the entrepreneur instinct I'm afraid that I'll cut him some slack out of the goodness of my heart. Has anyone else been in this position.

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Replies To: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

#2 andrewsw   User is online

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 20 February 2018 - 02:57 AM

This isn't something that affects me currently, but has done in the past. I suppose an obvious first suggestion, though, is to, between you, outline, i.e. break-down, the project/task into steps. The more detail and steps the easier it is to provide a more realistic estimate, and for you both to agree terms. You also have a bargaining, or discussion, tool to refer to as issues arise. More formally, software requirements specification.
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#3 tlhIn`toq   User is offline

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 20 February 2018 - 05:18 AM

Andrew is on the money - You have to break it down. In fact that's how I always do/did my freelance contracts. Break down the job into a timeline and build-in milestone payments.
-----|-------------------|------Website interaction 10%
-----|---------------|Social Media plugin 10%
-----|-----------|REST services done 20%
-----------|May 30 User permissions done 15%
-----|May 1 UI Approval 10%

Then when the client asks... "Where's the bit where they can take photos of their product?" you show them it was never in the contract or the timeline.
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#4 astonecipher   User is offline

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 20 February 2018 - 02:26 PM

The title is a bit of a misnomer then, because clients *shouldn't* give estimates.

So, what the others said!!!

I take my estimates and double them. That way, I have padding for the inevitable hurdles that WILL come up and if I finish in less time, everyone is happy. But, things taking too long occur generally for one of two reasons, not specific enough, or inexperience in the task. There are always others, but this is what I tend to see the most of. Breaking down the tasks into very manageable small pieces makes it easier to show progress and be specific on what is happening.
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#5 jon.kiparsky   User is online

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 20 February 2018 - 03:05 PM

I would start by pointing out that when you estimate in terms of time, you're generally going to be wrong. That's the most solid lesson from years of collective experience in software development: don't say "it'll take X time". Instead, estimate in terms of "units of effort", relative to some known tasks. It's hard to be right about the time that something is going to take, but it's not nearly as hard to be right about the relative effort of two tasks, if you understand the tasks.

Second thing to know is, the smaller the task, the easier it is to get a correct estimate of the time. So break jobs down into the absolute minimum deliverables to start with. Once you've broken things down into the smallest parts that the client cares about, break them down further for your own purposes. Suppose the deliverable is "The user can take a picture of their product". What does that mean? What steps do you have to take to make that happen? Get really detailed and then make your best estimate on each of those. One way to get that is to write the (initially failing) tests which will have to pass for this to be acceptable. Writing those tests will tell you a lot about what it means for this to be "done".

Third thing is, it's really hard to estimate alone. A team is self-correcting, a single person's mistakes tend to multiply. Prepare to be wrong. It's not that you're a bad person or bad at software, it's just that everyone is bad at estimating time, particularly if they're doing it alone.

Fourth thing is, probably I've missed something.

Last thing is, if you've given a time estimate, and you find yourself slipping the milestones, you must assume that you are going to continue to slip. If you were wrong about the first ten things that you worked on, you're likely to have been wrong about the next ten, and the ten after that. Scale your time estimates based on actual performance and either find extra time to work on the thing or inform the client that delivery date is likely to slip. Ideally, do both - try to find more time, but prepare the client for the delay.
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#6 Martyr2   User is online

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 21 February 2018 - 12:14 AM

As already said, estimating accuracy only comes with experience and even then you can be wrong most of the time. One thing you should do up front is be honest with the client and say "I am estimating that it will take this long, but it may take longer if I run into any issues. At that point I will stop and let you know of the issue and give you a revised estimate where you can decide if you wish to continue or not." Most of the time your honesty will go over well with the client and as long as you make it clear to them that you will check in with them before costs get out of control they are ok. Clients just get scared when they don't know how problems will affect the bottom line in the end. Clear communication here is the key. People understand that an estimate is just that, an estimate and the actual price may vary. They have to be prepared for a little overage and again as long as you make it clear that you will check in with them when problems arise, they are often ok with the fact they can pull the plug at any time.

If they are not understanding of this up front, you might not want them as a client to start with.
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#7 hiya2003   User is offline

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 21 February 2018 - 12:13 PM

The fixed price can come back to bite you ESPECIALLY if you under estimate time. I don't think there's a silver bullet to estimating the time a project will take (except experience.)
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#8 gattigen   User is offline

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 21 February 2018 - 01:51 PM

Or you could do what a professor of mine told me, take your estimates and double them. Chances are things wont go as planned or you haven't accounted for something, and you will need that extra time/money to account for it. The bonus is that the client is happier if you beat your estimate.
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#9 hiya2003   User is offline

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 21 February 2018 - 02:03 PM

Doesn't that pigeon hole you into over-bidding projects though? What about the guy who bids lower and undercuts you on projects, only to go back an add fees later?
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#10 astonecipher   User is offline

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 21 February 2018 - 02:07 PM

People will always under sell you. Whatís your value? If you bid $500 and I bed $2500, you get who you get and I get who I do. But, I donít have to bid anymore and my work tends to come to me thru word of mouth from past projects. If you need a project, price it for what youíre willing to take for the time to do it.
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#11 jon.kiparsky   User is online

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 21 February 2018 - 02:47 PM

Doubling your estimates is a good punchline, but not a great practice. You really want to be able to estimate accurately and to give your client an honest story.
If you find that you tend to underestimate, the solution is to learn to estimate better, not to apply an arbitrary fudge factor.
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#12 SpectateSwamp   User is offline

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Re: what do you do when a client wildly underestimates the time of a proje

Posted 06 March 2018 - 10:18 AM

Get the client involved as much as possible.
I had one contract where the client set the time estimates.
I went over by a couple weeks and didn't bill them. They paid me for that period....
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