Triads of bidding

~ 08 May 2006 ~

Recently Brian Fling of Blue Flavor published an excellent article for contractors and clients alike, “Pricing a Project”. It’s a very detailed and thorough article, certain to make a welcome addition to one’s bookmarks.

If I might offer an addendum to his article, it would be the following: Recognize how budget, scope, and timeline determine your level of interest in taking on a project.

The idea is markedly simple, in fact. These three factors — budget, scope, and timeline — are by far the most influential in helping you and a potential client mutually gauge one another’s interest in a project.

Visually, a Venn diagram seems to represent it best:

Venn diagram showing equal circles for budget, scope, and timeline. 'Interest' is the intersection of the three.

Where budget, scope, and timeline intersect lies your interest in the project. Granted, this doesn’t suggest all three factors are equal. In fact, for some projects, the diagram might look like this:

Venn diagram showing large circle for scope, smaller circles for budget and timeline

This distribution could be interpreted in at least two ways: 1) The project has a large set of deliverables with a relatively small budget and short timeline, or 2) the project’s subject matter is intriguing to you, and budget/timeline aren’t as much a concern.

Other projects might look something like this:

Venn diagram showing large circle for budget, smaller circles for scope and timeline

Big dollar project. Oh right, scope and timeline was what, you said?

Your interest will inevitably vary dependent upon these three factors, and it will certainly vary for each project.

Object? Agree? I’m interested to hear your thoughts. And if you’re feeling extra zany, you might even consider posting your own Venn diagrams. (Use img tag to reference images stored on your own server.)



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1   John ~ 08 May 2006 at 09:45 AM

I’ve always found it helpful to teach clients that they can only decide *one* of those spheres as critical. Its sorta the universal law of project management:

If they pick scope as top priority, then the budget and timeline need to be flexible to accomodate that feature set.

If the budget is critical (usually meaning you can’t go over it.. ;) then the client needs to be ready to pear down the scope and play with the timeline.

If the timeline is hard, then they also need to be ready to drop features or pour more cash into the developers so they can get done on time.

Watch out for clients that try to force two of these spheres as inflexible, as you’re all in for a hard ride.

2   Joshua Steimle ~ 08 May 2006 at 10:06 AM

This type of thing can help the relationship with reasonable clients, but if all clients were reasonable Cameron probably wouldn’t have posted this in the first place.

I think this is more helpful for deciding whether you want to start a relationship with a client at all. Of course then you have the clients who listen politely and agree to everything you say up until you sign a contract, at which point they expect you to be comletely flexible and agree with whatever they say and this type of thing gets thrown out the window.

3   Cliftonite ~ 08 May 2006 at 10:29 AM

When the budget bubble is huge, it’s hard to pay attention to clueless clients and massive timelines. Sometimes that 50% upfront collection is enough to motivate a starving freelancer to take on the most regrettable of projects.

“Necessity never made a good bargain.”
-Ben Franklin

4   Sharaf ~ 08 May 2006 at 10:32 AM

I like the diagrams.


I watch out for any client with a rush or short timeline. For me rush projects simply kill the creative juice that goes into the work.

Also, clients who are in a rush are always behind their target, whether their business, marketing, planning or budget. I personally don’t take any clients who come and say somthing like: “Can you get this site up this weekend?” No matter what they pay, it’s not worth it.

5   Cameron Moll ~ 08 May 2006 at 10:35 AM

I find it interesting that “Interest” area really isn’t all that larger/smaller in any of the three diagrams. Perhaps that’s not an accurate representation, perhaps it is. Comes back to my original point: It varies for everyone, regardless of how big or small each sphere is.

6   matthew ~ 08 May 2006 at 10:50 AM

This is interesting. Right on time for me. One might have one of these three that is more important to them than another. If that were the case they could assign a color or a value to each circle. If a color, then they check the final tint. You could even assign a hex value minimum for yourself (that’s getting pretty nerdy). Or if you went with numbers, say a total of 15 (5 per circle), when one enlarges by 2, 2 must be subtracted from somewhere. Either 1 each from those left, or 2 from one? Maybe you could have a point system worked out for yourself that had minimums and maximums for each category? Thanks for the great link and addendum. Really Helpful for this beginner.

7   Mike D. ~ 08 May 2006 at 10:55 AM

Hmmmm. Well if “scope” is just another word for “quality”, then I agree with the diagram. I generally tell clients that out of “fast, cheap, and good”, you can have any two out of the three. It’s the golden rule of bidding.

8   Kendall ~ 08 May 2006 at 10:57 AM

I think that the diagrams might be helpful in trying to get your head around a project, as Cameron commented, i’m not sure that the size of the circles or the size of the intersection points are accurate or relevant.

It’s essential to know what the scope, budget, and timelines are, but how would one determine the size of the circle? Would it be relative to the others? or based on some set of standards you have for your self? Any thoughts?

9   Cameron Moll ~ 08 May 2006 at 11:13 AM

Mike D. - I didn’t really want to touch on that. I think that’s a different issue, though part of the overall picture.

The ol’ quality-money-speed triad is typically how we inform clients as to constraints in project development. I’m attempting to look at scope-budget-timeline from the contractor’s end, as a measurement of interest rather than constraints. Of course, the coin has two sides — contractors can’t have it all much like clients can’t have it all, so I suppose there’s still an issue of constraints.

Regardless, I think the title is what may be causing some confusion — should probably be “Triads of interest” rather than “Triads of bidding”.

10   John Dilworth ~ 08 May 2006 at 11:41 AM

I don’t think it matters so much that the “Interest” portion is larger or smaller. What matters is that your three circles (TIMELINE, SCOPE, and BUDGET) all overlap at some point. If they don’t, your Interest should go way down simply because it is hard to be successful without some aligment of those three factors.

However, I’m also not sure if Interest is always influenced by those factors - to me it seems that Interest could be it’s own circle. I’ve had LOTS of interest in projects that don’t meet that criteria.

If I’m interested in the project, and I can get it done in reasonable amount of time and be profitable, I think I’ll take it on.

11   Amit Lamba ~ 08 May 2006 at 11:48 AM

Matthew: I like the idea you have, but how can you quantify the value/difference +-1 point may have in any of the 3 areas? Also, let’s say you end up with 14/15, does that make or break taking on the project? I guess it at least would weed out the 7/15 projects. Good discussion.

Also, I like Mike D.’s point, although I guess that would be another topic in itself.

12   Dennis West ~ 08 May 2006 at 11:49 AM

RE: Timeline:

This made me think of something that’s happening to me right now that I thought I’d share. A few weeks ago I was asked if I’d like to build a site that someone else was designing. It seemed like it would be an OK thing to do, so I told them how much and they agreed.

A couple of weeks went by and I finally got the actually design files to use in building the pages. I received a phone call asking when I would be able to get this done and I told them that with my other projects I’m doing, I wouldn’t have anything to show sooner than a week. Since then I’ve received emails almost everyday asking about progress and requesting that I work as fast as I can. THIS IS REALLY ANNOYING!

It bothers me when a client doesn’t present me with a timeline instead of asking me when I’ll get it done. Really, if it’s needed at a certain time, they should be letting me know! That would probably have changed how much I bid for the project in the first place.

I think that this system that you’re presenting here makes a lot of sense. I’m sure we all use it whether we’re conscious of it or not.

I’m learning from this, that when a client isn’t up front about a rushed timeline, at best it’s annoying, at worst it creates hard feelings when the we aren’t living up to the clients uncommunicated expectations.

13   Wible ~ 08 May 2006 at 11:58 AM

I often mention the ‘pick two’ approach to the service industry to my clients: Speed, Quality, Price - pick any two, you can’t have all three. I think this post is similar to that theory but geared more toward our side of the coin. Our triad of interest is directly affected by the ‘any two’ that the client chooses.


14   Wible ~ 08 May 2006 at 11:59 AM

Oh, just like Mike said! HA! That’s what I get for scanning comments cuz I wanted to type more than I wanted to read. Oh poo.

15   Erin Julian ~ 08 May 2006 at 01:51 PM

I like it! It’s really helpful to define the factors that influence your decision to accept a project. I know that I have taken all three of those things into account, just like you explained; I just never thought of them that clearly. ;)

16   matthew ~ 08 May 2006 at 02:27 PM

I had thought that one could tie a certain number with a certain size of circle (perhaps they might be exponential in order to add visual weight). If you have a predetermined allowance of weights, ie : 4b/5t/6s, or 3b,5t,7s or 1b,7t,7s then you might be able to judge the proposal based on a preset standard, and then if say, you REALLY want to do the project, you can adjust your score that way? Whatever works fer ya.

17   Matt ~ 08 May 2006 at 04:08 PM

Since I’m only into web design as a hobby, and it’s not what supports me financially, I’ll default to my ‘regular job’, and relay something that I’ve learned from that field, because I think it’s pretty applicable to most fields. When my boss is speaking to clients about possible future work, he tells them three things:

1. We can do your work fast.
2. We can do your work cheaply.
3. We can do your work correctly.

However, we can only do two out of three on any given project. At that point, it’s your job as a client to decide which two you’d like to see done.

As an aside, you’d be amazed at how many clients aren’t overly concerned with #3.

18   Matt ~ 08 May 2006 at 04:10 PM

(Note to self: Read all comments before adding one of your own)

Sorry, guys.

19   DaveMo ~ 08 May 2006 at 05:42 PM

Although I think by using the Venn diagrams you were just trying to illustrate an abstract idea without actually applying any kind of metrical process to gauge the level of intrest one might have in regards to a particular proposed project, I think it would be kind of useful and fun to have a system that did generate that kind of info.

I think Matthew and Amit might be Uber Geek enough to come up with one too! =^J

Hmm… I might try my hand as well.

Good food for thought non the less.

20   matthew ~ 08 May 2006 at 06:20 PM

UBERGEEK! YES! That’s an honor, although, I am only a dreamer, I wish I had some kind of programming ability, then it might be a cool app? xcode anybody? :)

21   Tony ~ 08 May 2006 at 06:57 PM

Well, if you were using this as a way to compare two projects to see which you should do, it would seem very hard to tell which “interest” area was bigger. Maybe a stacked bar chart would be better, where you give a value (maybe out of ten?) to each area, and then see which one gets closest to 30. You’ll have to forgive the looks of this, because I’m not a designer, but I made illustrator spit this out as an example of three competing projects:

22   Simon ~ 09 May 2006 at 11:31 AM

Nice idea Tony. That would allow some degree of flexibility in weightings as well.

E.g. budget out of 10, timeline out of 6, scope out of 8 etc… depending on your circumstances and/or general state of mind.

23   Lindsey ~ 09 May 2006 at 02:41 PM

Since then I’ve received emails almost everyday asking about progress and requesting that I work as fast as I can. THIS IS REALLY ANNOYING!

Oh how true … or how about when you give a potential client an estimate and then you hear nothing from him for weeks, possibly months. You bid on other projects, start work on them and then out of the blue the orginal client calls/messages/emails you and says they have chosen you -here’s all the information - start right away…

Personally I try to take on projects where the budget + scope >= my interest. Although presently I find it hard establishing my business at the $ rate I would prefer as the competition from cheap & fast (not neccessarily good) outsourced contractors underbid projects…

24   Lindsey ~ 09 May 2006 at 02:46 PM

… blah, and by outsourced, I meant workers in other countries where the value of the dollar is more, therefore they are happy with working for less…

25   Dallas ~ 09 May 2006 at 09:15 PM

I think you made a mistake with the diagrams Cameron. The centers of each circle need to be fixed. That way, the portion of overlap decreases and increases depending on the size of the budget, timeline or scope…

26   Eric ~ 11 May 2006 at 05:43 PM

I agree that all three factors of time, scope, and budget determine interest in a project overall. I like the visual reference.

How cool would it be to have an online tool that you could plug in some numbers and data and it would give you a diagram as shown. Ajax/PHP wizards get on it.

I think the first response has it down. Things do need to be flexible. I think clients and designers miss this when comunication is not open and clear.

27   Danno ~ 11 May 2006 at 11:23 PM

Doesn’t look like it helps to make a decission.


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