Tips and Tricks to estimate Marketing Cloud projects (and really any other project)

Whether you work for a consultancy, like I do (#DevsUnitedRocks), or you work for the marketing team of Northern Trail Outfitters (Salesforce nerds will get this) you may face the challenge of estimating a new project or initiative. 

Estimating work can be a very challenging task, depending on several factors:

    1. Amount of detail that we have to estimate the work
    2. Amount of time that we are given to provide an estimate
    3. Amount of experience we have in the topic we have to estimate
    4. Level of detail required to provide an estimate

Based on these factors I put together a list of tips and tricks to provide estimates that will make you and your team feel more confident on the work you commit to do.

The tips start from more general to more specific to Marketing Cloud work, so if you are interested just in that, jump ahead – I won’t be offended (saying this as I remove you from Facebook and any other social media platform that’s available to me).

General Estimation Tips

#1 Befriend Uncertainty

I introduce to you, the Cone Of Uncertainty!



Impressive, right?

In project management, the Cone Of Uncertainty describes the change in the amount of uncertainty during a project. At the very beginning of a project, there are many unknowns—this creates uncertainty and risks. But as you ask more questions, make some decisions and assumptions, you build your confidence and the amount of uncertainty decreases.

While uncertainty is not something that we want to have when we are estimating work, it’s a natural component of project management and we need to embrace it, accept that it is there and navigate the Cone Of Uncertainty by asking questions to reduce it. 

When you are estimating work, ask all the questions you can think of to get a better understanding of the project or task until you feel that you have enough information to provide an estimate. 

#2 Set an Accuracy Level

Based on where you are in the Cone Of Uncertainty and how much time you have to provide an estimate, define the level of accuracy that your estimate will have. 

This level of accuracy will be reflected in the amount of contingency or padding that you’ll add to your estimate. 

You can categorize your accuracy in 3 tiers:

  • Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM): This is a really rough estimate, a range between 50% of contingency.
  • Budget estimate: This one has between 15-25% padding.
  • Definitive estimate: This one still has a range but it’s between 5-15%

Once you have the accuracy level, set expectations with your stakeholders, boss, client, etc. that you can provide an estimate with the level you choose and explain why.

#3 Use Ranges

When you are estimating the work, use ranges to set the expectations with your client that while you are giving them a number for their project, it’s still an estimate (we are all humans at the end of the day right? Except me, I’m a robot).

#4 Embrace Questioning

Because it is software. Think about it. If you want to remodel your bathroom and you call a contractor and the contractor tells you that it will cost $50,000 would you usually ask them questions around what type of hourly rate they are using? What type of tools or material are they using the build the bathroom or if they are doing the job alone or with a bunch of people? Probably not, because most likely you don’t understand what the job entails so you either like the cost and understand the value of what you’ll pay or not. 

With software being an intangible deliverable, it’s a lot easier to ask these types of questions and it’s a lot harder to see the value that your money will get until you start measuring the success of the deliverable (using KPIs, of course). 

So questioning is a normal part of the process. This is why adding details on what you are delivering, itemizing the work and adding assumptions will help your stakeholders and clients understand the value of what they are paying for.

#5 Work in Pairs

When you work with another coworker or team in drafting or revising the estimate, you remove the pressure on your shoulders to be the sole owner of the estimate, you feel more comfortable providing numbers and your estimates will be more accurate as they are being checked by more than one person. 

Salesforce Marketing Cloud Tips

#1 Templatize Questions

If you are building Journeys all the time and your brand team is asking you to estimate another one, send them a scoping questionnaire with the questions that will cover 75-80% of your estimate – that way your estimates will be consistent across the board, and your brand team will know the details they need to give you each time before you can get to work.

#2 Templatize Estimates

Similar to #1, create base spreadsheet templates of estimates for things like: Journey configuration, MobileConnect activation, IP Warmups, Preference Center development, etc. 

These templates should contain base numbers that you can modify depending on the use case.

#3 Use Historical Data

Did you know that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing? So, if you are going to spend that much time not thinking about the present maybe use some of that percentage to dig up the past a bit further and look at how many hours you spent on past projects that were similar to the one you are estimating. 

This will give you a better level of accuracy and make your estimating task a lot easier.

#4 Consider External Factors

Doing a Mobile Connect activation? Consider the time to activate a mobile code based on the country you need to enable it. Need to do an IP Warmup? Consider the period in which, no matter how perfect your content and subscriber engagement is, some ISP that shall remain unnamed will flag you as spam and you will have to spend hours remediating. 

Writing these external factors as tasks or as exclusions will help your client understand the amount of effort you are putting into their success.

#5 Itemize


If you are migrating from another platform into Salesforce Marketing Cloud, before estimating, make a list of the components that you need to migrate and catalog them in some way. For example, you can make an itemized list of the following items: Templates, Emails (categorized in simple, complex, unique, repeated), Images, Subscribers, Automations.

Then, show it to the client or stakeholder and discuss which ones you will take on versus them. Lastly, estimate the level of effort to migrate one unique and new piece versus repeating the work. 

This will show a great deal of value to your client and make them understand the amount of effort that it takes to migrate into Salesforce Marketing Cloud (#itsnoteasy).

Bonus Tip: Don’t Forget About Assumptions and Exclusions

When the clock is ticking and the details are poor, assumptions and exclusions can be our savior, because they help us communicate to our clients that the estimates that we are presenting have several considerations behind them and that if they want to move forward we will honor them. 


I’ve been estimating projects for many years now and I continue to find new ways to work on estimates and present them. While I can think of many other tips or tricks I hope that these ones serve you as a foundation to demystify the fear of estimating, regain your confidence and make your estimates more accurate in the near future! 

Pato Sapir

Co-founder & Solutions Consultant