The Importance of Better Estimates in Your Creative Agency

Why is it important to make better estimates in your creative agency/ design studio? The reason is simple. We all know that estimates are all about time, and we also know that time is money, so logic dictates that good estimates means making more money! It also means that making bad estimates equals loosing money, which is not a good thing for any business.

The Challenge of Creative Effective Estimates

Technology projects (I assume that that’s what we are talking about) are never the same, each project is unique in some way, so, by definition they are hard to estimate. Another reason why these projects are hard to estimate, is because nothing we do is tangible (what ever happened to the old “lets take a big hammer and break this thing?” — everything is so “virtual” these days, anyways, I digress …). Since nothing is concrete, everything is open for interpretations and different expectations, which always lead to scope creep.

A completely different challenge with making good estimates, is that different people have different strengths, and different experiences, so estimating time should take into account the person who would perform the work, and their skill set. Yet, the reality is that we do not always know who will do the work, or if that information will change by the time the work needs to be performed. This is where a good creative brief can help you start and keep projects on the right track. Writing an effective creative brief doesn’t need to be difficult or take a long time. Just find a template and customize it to fit the depth of your project.

The Difference Between Effort and Duration

Duration is the elapsed time until the task is complete, while the effort is the time required to complete the task.


I can perform a 4 hours task (effort), over a period of 3 days (duration).

Make sure that when you estimate, you estimate by effort, not by duration.

Minimize the Challenge of Creative Good Estimates

Step 1

Make sure you have a good vision of the project outcome, as well as a complete listing of all of the objectives that need to be accomplished to make the vision into a reality. You also need to have a good understanding of the effort that is needed to complete the objectives. At this point, you usually don’t have an exact plan of HOW to complete the project, but you should have a very good understanding of WHY the project came to existence, and WHAT you are going to build.

Step 2

Estimate the time. That’s what we really talk about here …

Here are some tips to better estimate (get ready, this is why you’ve been reading all the boring stuff until now):

Go through each objective that you need to estimate, and ask yourself:

  1. Do I really know what it means?
  2. If you do not know what the item is, ask yourself: why? Is it too vague? If that’s the case, break it further into its components. Do I know enough about what is being asked for? If not, go back to the person who specified the requirement/objective and ask for clarification.
  3. Who is going to perform the work?
  4. Have I done anything similar? How long did that take? If you use fp. or another agency management system, look up a previous similar jobs and view the actuals. This can be a great place to start with your estimate!
  5. What is the best / worst case scenario time wise? take the average of the two
  6. How confident am I that the estimated time I came up with is enough to perform the work? Rate your confidence between 1 and 10 (BTW, this can help finding high risk areas)
  1. Add more time to the estimate until you feel comfortable with it.
  2. Continue breaking the objective into sub objectives, and estimate each

Tips to Remember:

  • Don’t be shy! Ask for a second opinion — either from a co worker, or online (tons of people dying to tell the world what they think).
  • Trust yourself — if you’ve done all of the above, simply trust yourself.
  • As you break objectives into their components, you will get closer to more tangible units of work, which force you to make more assumptions regarding the implementation details. Depending on where you are in the project, this may be too early in the process to make assumptions at that level. Be careful with how much you break the work down, break it enough to come up with a good estimate, but not enough to make too many implementation assumptions.


I hope that I was able to illustrate the importance of good estimating, the difficulties associated with estimating, and some of the best practices I use to make better estimates.

This article was written by former Function Point team member, Alon Sabi

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