Original Post Date: Thursday, July 15, 2010 

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” This is a famous quote by author and US. State Department spokesman Robert McCloskey (September 15, 1914 – June 30 2003) and was attributed to him by Marvin Kalb, a CBS reporter, in TV Guide 31 March 1984. This quote was in reference to a press briefing during the Vietnam War. What it really addresses is the ease to which the communication of the meaning / understanding of ideas can become confused or misunderstood.

I have found through-out my career that this is a constant danger. I think the danger is especially true in the area of cost estimation. What is really included in an estimate? Are we estimating the correct understanding of the project, system, or program? Did I understand the purpose of the item we are costing well enough to estimate it? Although many of you reading this would nod your head in agreement or even think well Duh! The act of communication, as part of the cost estimating process, is easily side-tracked. Because of this likelihood one must find the means to guard against confusion and to increase the probability of meaningful and accurate exchange of ideas.

To this end I have found a couple of techniques to be helpful. First and foremost, listen carefully to the person or group with which you are interacting. Ensure that you practice active listening by asking clarifying questions, providing appropriate feedback, or recording what is being said for further review later. Additionally, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Use visual products such as charts, diagrams or an interactive whiteboard session to clarify what is being discussed. BUT, don’t rely solely on pictures because each of us learn or communicate in different ways. Some do fine with visual communication others need to read it and even others are auditory and must hear the ideas out loud. Use a variety of interaction approaches to help increase the potential for good communication and the chance that you will provide a useful estimate will increase significantly.

Bob Koury
Senior Cost Research Analyst, PRICE Systems