How to Estimate Project Cost Accurately ? – PMP Exam Tips

  • Project Management
Created on :
June 13, 2023
Saket Bansal
Updated on :
July 4, 2023

Establishing a project budget in the early stages is crucial, yet it poses significant challenges. The biggest concern being, what if the budget is insufficient or becomes excessive upon completion? And how can we estimate the costs accurately? In this article, we’ll explore these concerns through the perspective of the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam, addressing the balancing act of budgeting and cost management in project scenarios.

The Guessing Game: Early Project Estimates

Budgeting, particularly in the initial stages of a project, often resembles a guessing game. We improve our ‘guesses’ by incorporating the variability, problems, or learnings we gather over time. At the onset of a project, it’s customary to provide a rough order of magnitude estimate, an approximate estimate necessary for creating the business case and determining whether the project is worth the investment.

The accuracy of this initial estimate and the acceptable error range depend heavily on the uncertainty associated with the project, past experience, and the nature of the work. If the work is familiar, the guess tends to be more precise. However, if it’s an entirely new project, the error margin could be higher. 

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Progressive Refinement: The Cone of Uncertainty

As the project progresses, your estimates should become more accurate. Once some project iterations are complete, particularly in the case of agile projects, it’s expected to re-estimate the costs with lower error margins, as by this time, some initial assumptions have been validated. This continuous re-estimation of the project’s cost is called the ‘cone of uncertainty’ in project management parlance. The ‘cone’ represents the uncertainty in our estimates, which should ideally shrink as we gain more knowledge about the project.

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Stakeholder Engagement: Transparency and Communication

The crucial question arises, what if the project’s cost escalates drastically, say from X to 3X? Who bears the brunt of this extra cost? Here’s where stakeholder engagement and communication come into play. It’s the project manager’s responsibility to keep the stakeholders informed about the project’s financial status at all stages.

If the project costs triple, stakeholders might want to re-evaluate the return on investment (ROI). They might decide to cancel the project if it no longer seems a viable investment or continue if they foresee substantial returns, even at a higher cost.

Forecasting: The Project Manager’s Responsibility

As a project manager, you must always be ready to revise your estimates as the project progresses, involving the right expertise in the context of these estimations. Whenever you report increased expenditure, it’s essential to provide a forecast of the final budget. Transparency is key to successful budget management.

Your primary role isn’t deciding whether to continue or halt the project but to keep everything transparent, make the best judgement using organization resources, and keep stakeholders constantly updated. This approach of efficient budget management and proactive stakeholder engagement is central to what we learn in project management and crucial to your preparation for the PMP exam.

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