Channeling Your Inner Picasso

Cost Engineering is often described as part science and part art. The science aspect is easily observed. We all understand the importance of collecting, normalizing, and analyzing historical data to support estimating a future program. We can all proficiently navigate the lake of R2s, coefficients of variation, regression equations, and the like. But what about the art of cost engineering?

First, let us define what we mean by the art of cost engineering.  Think of this as all the intangible aspects of how you do what you do. Communication style and strategies for framing the scope of a new effort are some examples. There is not necessarily a “right” way to do any of these examples, but we may agree that some ways are more effective than others.

One effective strategy I have found over the years is really just a variation on the concept of Management by Walking Around (MBWA).  Let us call it Cost Engineering by Walking Around (CEBWA). CEBWA helps the Cost Engineer fully understand the scope, challenges, aspects and nuances of the process or deliverable being estimated. Early in my career, a program leader said to me “You have no business estimating the cost of this system unless you’ve seen it in person.”  Next thing I know, I am on a plane to visit the plant and walk the entire production line, chatting with the people building the system as I go along.  Understanding the process, the engineering intricacies, the interaction between subsystems was so helpful. It was an invaluable lesson that has stuck with me over the years.

So, get out there. Walk the shop floor. Talk to the technicians, the engineers, the machine operators, and the plant supervisors. What challenges do they see? What impacts their efficiency? Are there parts of the process that you may not have initially captured? This strategy may very well help shape how the cost engineers model an existing or future project. At a minimum, it will help you gain an understanding of and an appreciation for the types of projects you estimate on a daily basis.

Joe Bauer