Post edited 26/2/16
Vendor: Switchback Interactive, Inc.
Hosting options: There is a web hosted version only
Cost and plans: Free for basic accounts with 1 user and 2 active estimates. An individual account is $10 per month and a company account with unlimited users is $35 per month. You get 2 months free if you sign up on a yearly basis.
Currency: As of 26 February 2016 you can change the currency under the Company Settings area.
Basic Features: Creating Estimates
Simplestimate is a web-based tool that allows you to create financial estimates for your projects.
As you can see from the screenshot, you enter the project sections, then add tasks and assign resources to tasks. You have to estimate the time for each resource. You can set how many estimating points you want to use in your estimate. In the screenshot, I’ve gone for low and high, but you can have just one or low/most likely/high.
Each resource has a cost associated with it. Simplestimate works out the cost per resource for each task and plays that back to you.
I really like the pie chart that shows how the overall project cost is split between the sections. I imagine this would be helpful for project stakeholders so they can see where the bulk of the money is going.
Paid plans have templates so you can set up estimates for projects that your company does time and time again. This will save you time and avoid starting from scratch for every client.
Managing Expectations with Ranges
This is something I really liked about the tool. One of the biggest problems I’ve come across with managing the expectations of stakeholders is that they think if you tell them it’s going to cost £1,050.85 then it will actually cost that much.
Hello, real life. Of course it won’t.
Being able to present data in a range of optimistic to conservative estimates is a great way to address this. You can do this without Simplestimate, by providing range data or +/- confidence levels, but I think that having a tool pop out those numbers for you somehow makes it more official. You might get believed more if you show that something else has calculated your estimate, not your own spreadsheet and risk averse-ness.
Simplestimate lets you calculate low, average and high estimates from the figures you provide.
If you want your estimates to be detailed, you have to add in a lot of project tasks and resources, so it’s almost like creating a mini-project plan. I think that’s duplicating effort, as you’d want to schedule your project and track performance against it outside of this tool. Simplestimate doesn’t give you any tracking options so once you’ve created your estimate you will have to manage your time and costs outside of that.
You could get round that by only using the really high-level milestones or project phases in the estimate: it would do, especially if your main objective is only to create easy-to-understand figures to share with clients.
You can also add a markup, which is handy if you are working out your actual costs and then want to uplift to represent your margin. You can only add markup to everything though, as there isn’t the option to only apply it to certain tasks.
If your project includes the cost of software, licences, or other equipment hire and so on, that isn’t intuitive. You are asked to ‘Select a role’ when it comes to entering a resource to do the task. I entered ‘Van hire’ in one estimate I prepared, and while you can do it, you have to think outside the box, adding the cost price in the hourly rate and then saying the high/most likely/low estimates are all 1 hour. It works, but it feels awkward.
There aren’t that many options so it is very easy to use. After all, it only does estimating and you aren’t creating Gantt charts or anything from the data.
The colours are nice and you have some flexibility changing the different section colours, but not enough to make it match your company’s brand colour scheme.
It’s easy to reorder sections of the estimate and it all updates on the fly: there’s no need to hit ‘Save’ or ‘Recalculate’ or anything like that and I appreciate that.
What about collaboration features?
Simplestimate isn’t designed for multiple people to work on an estimate. You wouldn’t need to, so let’s keep it simple. You plug the data in and an estimate pops out.
You can share your estimate. As you can see from the image, you can decide what to share (which is handy if you are planning on sending the URL to a client and you don’t want them to see either the detail of the task or your most conservative estimate). You can also unshare your estimate when you’re ready to take it down. That was very easy.
On a paid plan you can also create PDF shares and multiple versions of estimates.
If you are a small project management shop and are looking for a free tool to do client estimating, with the expectation that you might want to keep it on a paid basis, then this does what it says it does.
Once you’ve set it up with the right roles and prices, it’s really easy and fast to create good looking estimates to share with clients.
Spreadsheets would do the same job but would give you an uglier result more subject to human error. If your Excel skills aren’t the best, and your business relies on getting estimates right and winning business, then Simplestimate makes estimating easy for your team.
Full disclosure: Simplestimate have advertised on my blog this year but I have not been paid for this review.
Header image credit: Placeit.net