Expert Estimation: the Early Days

GLEN’S SOAPBOX – A history of Expert Estimation

It’s been a while since I’ve reminisced on the origins of Expert Estimation, but it’s coming up to the thirtieth anniversary this November, so it’s made me reflect on how far we’ve come.

When I started in an estimating department, all estimates were paper-based. That’s right, we wrote everything out and calculated it using a pocket calculator. When changes were required, we used a red pencil to differentiate between what was and what is now. It wasn’t pretty, but it was successful.

In 1987 I was working with a mainframe estimating program. It was text-based (think green text on black screen!) and very procedural. You could only access one screen at a time, and it was time-consuming to go back and alter/update data. Compared with paper though, it was exceptional.

More importantly, it could only be accessed via a dumb terminal with a keyboard. So any work using it could only be accessed within the office. PCs existed, but they didn’t have enough memory to run estimating programs.

For me, this was hard. I had a young family, and staying up all night in the office to finish an estimate using the program was a necessary evil, but one I wanted to change; not just for me, but for others too.

So being the straight-talking problem solver that I was, I said I thought I could write a program for PC. Despite the scepticism from some colleagues, that’s what I did.

EE Floppy Disk

It wasn’t easy. You must remember that early PCs ran on 640 KB floppy discs, but I worked around these memory issues by forcing users to essentially only access certain parts of the software at a time. Taking advantage of the workflow of all other DOS based software, the first version of Expert Estimation required that users close one screen before being permitted to proceed to the next.

In hindsight, it wasn’t ideal, still being text-based and using a lot of key commands, but it enabled estimating software to get mobile and who knew any different in those days? To my astonishment, people talked about it, and even came with an offer to buy.

In 1990, we sold our first licence.

A photo of Glen Townsley

Glen Townsley is the founder of Pronamics, and has spent over 30 years building estimating software after a successful career as a civil estimator and project manager.