Why estimation by email is a bad idea

23 06 2011

It seems like the most common way to communicate between customer (for example a Marketing department) and supplier (for example a development company or a webb design company) is by email.

Email seems to be the most common way to ask for an offer or an estimate.

By working both on the customer and the developer side I very clearly have seen during 15 years of web and IT development projects, that making estimates through email communication is a very bad idea and a big WASTE. Why?

  • Reading and make a correct interpretation of email descriptions of a design idea someone else has written, is extremely hard
  • Email is very close to one-way communication. The ones reading your email are scratching their heads trying to figure out what you mean. To pick up the phone is very uncommon these days. The readers (suppliers) will try to collect all their questions in one email, in stead of 20 small ones – by the time for writing the email back, they’ll have forgotten half of the questions or think it’s to small to write in an email.
  • Email is very close to one-way communication. The readers (suppliers) cannot share their own ideas of better solution or their questions
  • Email communication takes TOO MUCH time for all people involved. The lead time from the customers idea to a fair estimate can be weeks. Bring the customer and supplier together for 1 hour (or video conference if the distance is too far), and you will have a fair estimate that same hour.
  • When you finally reach some estimate by email communication after 1 week or more, there will be so much misunderstandings so when the service or functionality is developed there will be endless discussions about the estimate and  – who said what, who had the right intepretation. When you talk about design issues face to face there is at least a fair chance of common understanding.
  • Email communcation wastes the creative minds of both the customer (writer) and the (supplier) reader. You’re not taking advantage of the creative nature of face to face communication where you can share ideas, draw, explain impediments, constraints, the purpose and develop the idea to a better and in the long run much cheaper one, by making a better solution for both you and your customer.

Please STOP this! And you will come much quicker to time to market – and have much more accurate estimates.

It’s very easy. By going for 1 hour travel time to meet your supplier to have a 1 hour conversation about some idea, you will for sure save many many hours in later discussions (by probably writing angry emails). And if they like you, you might be brave enough to ask them for a desk to borrow the rest of the day with your laptop so you don’t have to travel back that day.

Try this @ home and @ your supplier and you will both win the estimation game.

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