Around the world, large public infrastructure projects requiring political approval are prone to overly
optimistic estimating. For example, Boston, Massachusetts, USA’s infamous central artery/tunnel
project—popularly known as the “Big Dig”—was
estimated to cost US$2.8 billion but ultimately
went more than 190 percent over budget and finished nine years late.
Overly optimistic estimating on large public
infrastructure projects “happens regularly, and it
comes with the territory,” says Russell Looney,
PMP, senior cost estimator at Project Time & Cost
Inc., who is based in Richland, Washington, USA.
The organization specializes in construction management for federal government projects.
There are various reasons that estimates might
ultimately prove very low. “Sometimes agency
turnover, elections, labor, environmental or economic factors result in project delays, terminations
and restarts,” he says.
It’s not just that politicians set and approve budgets at the legislative level, or that cost-conscious
political dynamics can sway project managers
toward overly optimistic estimates. “The reality is
that today’s budgets and funding levels are moving
targets,” Mr. Looney adds.
Know the dynamics and volatility of the project’s
environment. Seek stakeholder perspectives during the planning stages and be ready for anything.
“Project managers should be concerned with
Living in the Past
technical feasibility and cost/schedule reason-
ableness,” Mr. Looney says, “and then be ready
to propose scope deferrals or reductions in the
event of funding cuts, emergencies or compet-
Also, successful project managers working on
megaprojects understand the value of involving
experienced life cycle cost estimators beginning
at the scope definition phase, he says. That way,
decision-makers have useful cost information for
capital requirements and forecasting.
When creating their estimates, project practitioners
have to consider how similar projects fared in the
past. However, it can be dangerous to rely on history alone.
Looking solely to previous projects was “the biggest estimating mistake I ever made,” says Wafi
Mohtaseb, PMI-ACP, PMI-SP, PMP, a software
development manager at the National Bank of
Kuwait, Kuwait City, Kuwait. “At the time, I did my
estimates based on similar previous projects, and I
had an overreliance on historical numbers. It was
early in my career, and it cost me a lot. It’s a very
Involve subject matter experts. Build time into the
estimating process to talk with industry specialists
working on similar initiatives in the present, Mr.
“Estimating is important team work,” Mr. Chauhan says. “Most estimates will be accurate if you
have the right experts working with you. Break
down the project into different parts that subject
experts can weigh in on with confidence.”
PMP, National Bank
of Kuwait, Kuwait
Project managers should
be concerned with
technical feasibility and
cost/schedule reasonableness, and
then be ready to propose scope
deferrals or reductions in the event
of funding cuts, emergencies or