Original Post Date: Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Parametric modeling is excellent for all aspects of early-concept cost estimation, including go/no-go decisions downstream. So, in the spirit of bringing a transparency to (ethical) financial engineering… why not apply our craft to pricing “real-options”?

The latter are essentially strategic opportunities for engaging resources (cost/schedule) into projects, ventures, investments, or even abandonments. The opportunity choice has value itself! 

Unlike static project Net Present Value (often, but not exclusively, approximated with Discounted Cash Flow) assuming pre-defined decisions, real-options reflect the merit of flexibility. If an R&D or proof-of-concept presents viability/ marketability learning, the option has positive value, above and beyond DCF. The more the flexibility, the higher the value. Likewise, a real-option appreciates with more uncertainty.

By now, you’re asking—“Wasn’t this a parametrics blog? I’m an engineering/ computing/ math/ science type, not a quantitative-finance geek. How could the above possibly help me any”?

Answer: In some situations, specifically go/no-go, the value of your flexibility created with the strategic choice to move forward (or not) can exceed its “option” cost. Not all options should be executed, just as all go/no-go decisions aren’t go’s. But, over time, continuing to pay less than their market value creates an opportunity to average out with total economic-value creation.

But, you say— “How do I find the cost of this flexibility/uncertainty option? It sounds great that I can make investment decisions based on buying/ executing (or not) these options, but do I really need to learn fancy finance stuff like Black-Scholes, Value Trees, Binomial-Risk Neutral Pricing… based on risk-free rates of return and (expected) discounted cashflows…. Yikes!”

Answer: (& bottom-line, for now) No. Use your parametric estimating tool! Concerned about the hardware cost of pilot-production/ tooling? “Buy” an option priced as the cost of preliminary design. 
{Note that the latter cost is your option’s premium, and the go-ahead cost is your option’s strike price.}
Interested in the nonrecurring cost of large-scale full software development? Buy an option for the
cost of first iteration increment. Concerned about COTS versus assembly? Estimate the development (and integration) of both scenarios. 

The point is take an economically-disciplined approach to valuing your strategic choices downstream. Parametric modeling works here and is “data-driven” defensible.  It is certainly applicable to strategic investment, capital -budgeting and new business decisions within both the public and private sectors. Transparency through mathematics is a good thing.

John Swaren
Solutions Consultant. PRICE Systems