An Engineering Quote For Your Project

When thinking about your new project, one of the first things you want to know is:  How much will it cost?  And, how long it will take?  Those questions are the essence of an Engineering Quote, yet there is a lot that goes into getting the answers it.

See The Engineering Quote FutureLet's face it, making an Engineering Quote (Estimate) for product development work or a custom machine is hard.  Every project is different - some more defined, some less; some more complex, some less.  Some bigger projects, some smaller.  Yet, all projects have unknowns at the start.  So how can we estimate what will happen through development?

Well, First, we pull out the crystal ball, dim the lights,  . . .  (OK, we wish.)  No, First, we learn from you.

I Need A Quote

As a customer, when I look at a quote, time and money are the primary things the estimate must include.  Secondly, I want a picture of the development process and what to expect.  Third, I need confidence in the numbers and confidence in the people that will carry it forward.

Are those the same things you look for?

How do we take the nebulousness out of the guesstimations?  The keys to getting an accurate engineering quote are summed up in 3 words:  Complete, Defined Information.  In essence, the better the information, the more accurate the quote.

Well, that sounds good in theory, but often the "Complete Defined Information" is not available.  Really, that's what engineering development is all about - defining the new project completely.

So, what can we do - what can you do - to assist in getting a better engineering quote?

Answer:  Dump all the thoughts and information from your brain to ours.  Sounds funny, perhaps, but the more we know about what you are thinking, the easier it is for us to achieve what you want.  For a good engineering quote we need to know as much about the project as you can give.

Getting A Good Engineering Quote

Here are several ways to streamline project success and get an accurate quote.  Here is a list in order of importance.

  1. Write a specification.  The spec is a document that outlines the vision.  (How big is it?  Who is it for?  How many?  Cost goals?  and so much more.  Read the "Requirements" Page of the Product Development Process article for things to consider in writing your specification.  It does not have to be perfect - it probably can't be complete - but more definition is always better.
  2. Design Info on the BoardDraw Pictures.  Add labels if needed.  Hand sketching on a napkin, or whatever works.  More information is better because pictures communicate so much more than words.
  3. Provide a mock-up or early development prototype (if one exists).  It can be bailing wire and duct-tape, or playdough (my favorite), or papier-mâché, or whatever.  Mockups and early prototypes are super valuable.
  4. Make a flowchart.  If there are actions of the product or things in sequence, draw a flowchart.
  5. If the project is complex or long, break it into smaller steps, then we will quote first steps first.  Subdividing the project makes the complex simpler.  We can quote the later steps more accurately when we have definition of the first ones done.
  6. For Engineering Consulting Projects, define the desired goal - like in this Case Study about Forensic Analysis.

Having some or all of the above will make the engineering quote process more accurate.  That said, we know these are not always available.  The essence is sharing what you do know, and being able to work with less definition in a quote if the project is less defined.  The more we can define early, the easier it is to Optimize the Design Process.

Difficult Estimates

OK, we have discussed the things that help to make an accurate engineering quote.  Obviously, the contrary makes it more difficult, but here is a list of things that specifically make it more difficult, and some things we can do to compensate for it.

Things that make an accurate engineering quote more difficult.

  1. Undefined requirements / specification.  The opposite of the list above.
  2. Wanting Best Case vs. Worst Case guesses.  (It sounds good, but in reality, it is like quoting twice based on different assumptions.)
  3. Needing an engineering quote for multiple steps way into the future - for instance the cost of a prototype when a design does not yet exist.
  4. Fiddle Factor vs. Pressure.  There is an art in finding a solution by fiddling with a lot of options until the elegant solution stands out.  This is a great way of finding the best design, but it takes time.  If there is pressure to complete the project in a short time, it is much harder to be thorough in thinking through all the best approaches.
  5. Appropriate Fudge Factors.  Too often the things in a project that consume excess time are unanticipated.  Because we know this usually happens, we use fudge factors.  When the project has good definition, and divides well into pieces, these fudge factors become smaller and more accurate.  Fudge factors also include things like development time where something unanticipated comes out, and Engineering must spend time solving a problem that was not supposed to be.

Success After The Engineering Quote

The quote is the first part.  Accepting the quote and initiating work is second.  Third, following that quote to project success is the bigger step.  That said, here are some things to help the progress along.

  1. Communication.  It is the key to most of this list (and to success with things not on this list.)
  2. Honor the definition in the estimate.  Yes, there are times when things change.  However, when those times come, be sure communication is clear and everyone is onboard with the new direction.
  3. Commit to design review meetings along the way to keep progress moving and keep everyone on the same page.  (Yes, more communication.)
  4. Avoid items in the Overruns section below.

For more information on this topic of project success (and project overruns), please read "What is the Cost of Change?"

Project Overruns

We don't like to go over an engineering quote, but it is worth mentioning because it is a very related topic.  The engineering quote will normally cover the project from start to the defined stopping point.  However, that is not always true.  Here are some things that drive cost or time overruns.

Reasons a project might go over quote.

  1. Scope creep.  This is the big one.  So often in engineering design, there are fun little additions that come up.  "Hey, if we add ______ then it's so much better!"  This is very common, and in most cases, the addition is an improvement.  The problem? - The engineering quote did not include ______.  Often these changes or additions drive the cost up, because they require more time.
  2. Gachas you didn't know.  This is another big one, and it often occurs when creating new technology.  Sometimes you just run into things that you had no idea about, then Engineering must spend time solving new things.
  3. Too much customer interaction or pressure.  We always want customer input, and we listen.  However, if that becomes overly frequent, especially in areas of scope creep, it consumes time that takes away from the project.  Also, as deadlines approach additional pressure from the customer is more detrimental than effective.
  4. Related to #3, customers should honor the 80/20 rule - 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of the work.  It is often easy to see big strides early, then it might seem like less is being done.  That is not because the project is idle, rather, the details that require 80% of the effort only show 20% of the progress.  That said, 80% of a project is still incomplete.
  5. To be completely honest, sometimes the engineering company just bites off more than they thought.  This has more to do with time overruns, because the cost portion of the Engineering Quote should be honored.  However, sometimes engineering is just over optimistic about how much time it takes.


Getting an Engineering Quote from Synthesis

This article is not written as a plug for Synthesis, yet it would be incomplete without sharing how we work with new projects in providing an Engineering quote.  It starts, of course, with you, the customer contacting us - either by phone, or through our web form.  Second, we will connect and talk about your project.

Synthesis Engineering Quote Top

Our first object is to understand your need, then assess whether we have the skills and experience to assist.  If we do, we will guide the quoting process with you.  If we don't have the needed skills or experience, then we will let you know.  Hopefully we will be able to direct you to a source that is more suited.  This is much the same as covered in this article about Engineering Consulting.

If the project is proprietary in nature, often an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) is appropriate.  We have a generic one here, or you can certainly provide one of your own.  From there, it's a matter of communicating all you can give, and together we will discuss the steps to provide the best engineering quote.  It is not difficult, and we don't bite, so please let us know if there is something we can help with.

Types of Engineering Quote

If your project is well defined from start to finish and we know the steps to get there, usually a Firm, Fixed Price and timeline are best for everyone.  If, on the other hand, the project is nebulous, or requires iteration for a solution, or if the path to success is not clear, then a Time & Materials quote is often more appropriate.  We will work together to discover the right type of engineering quote for your project.  The best way to know is to start the conversation.

Good luck with your projects.

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