The SWAG Dance

Long before we have a defined scope and a signed contract… someone will ask, “How much will this cost?”

When this happens during the first phone call, my answer is, “$19.95 plus shipping and handling – and shipping is free. It’s usually the handling charge that gets you.”


With the mood a little lighter, I’ll get a “No, seriously.”

Every company, large or small, wants to know how much something will cost before they invest in it. It’s natural. So we start with the “fives.”

“Based on what you’ve told me so far, Jim, I can give you an estimate that will be accurate within one order of magnitude. The good news is that this project will cost less than $500,000. The bad news is that it will cost more than $5,000. That puts us in the $50,000 range plus or minus a large percentage because we don’t have clarity yet.”

You’ll note that this is not very accurate. That’s intentional. The danger in giving Jim anything like real numbers at this point is that people remember them. Once we convey that a price range is “reasonable” – even with caveats – any higher figure becomes unreasonable later in the project… sowing the seeds of discontent.

If I think the project is on the small side (less than ginormous), I might use threes instead of fives. Still, the idea is to paint the outside borders of the budget and create a need in the customer’s mind for a finer degree of accuracy.

“But that doesn’t tell me anything,” Jim responds.

“Actually, it tells you three things, Jim. It tells you that (A) I don’t know what you want yet, (B) the project you’re describing has a wide range of possible prices and (C) you’re talking to a professional who won’t quote a firm price until he knows what you want.”

If the caller is serious, we can then move into a discussion of how to produce a good estimate, which will require discovery activity – the handling charge.

Which way is ground?

Parking on the level above where I entered the garage, I hoofed it into the elevator thinking about my meeting.
Why do I feel the freedom to ignore my surroundings and focus on my meeting? Because I have faith in the good sense of architects, builders and elevator designers to do the right thing…to act in my best interest and not make me learn a special system just for this building.

Silly me.

After the door closed, I was greeted by a typical panel of buttons. That’s when my trouble began.
I’m on the second floor, right? I drove in on the GROUND level (where cars typically travel in the real world) and I went up ONE level.
What level am I on, then? TWO, of course. Except in THIS elevator.
I glance at the buttons and, before pressing the ONE button, glance up at the floor indicator. It says “5.”
FIVE? I’m on level FIVE? But I only drove up ONE level from GROUND! How can this be FIVE?
Then I see it — the magic icon that is supposed to make everything all right. The calming, ubiquitous symbol that means GROUND and will guide me through the rest of my journey. Is it a picture of LAND? No. Is it a picture of a person walking on some GROUND to leave the building? No. Is it the word LOBBY perhaps, or “G” for Ground? No and no. It’s…a STAR.  And this totally intuitive symbol for GROUND FLOOR is located where? Next to the level 3 button. Level THREE!!
You’ve got the scenario by now. Level 1 is first (lowest) basement level. Level 2 is the basement level above that, level 3 is actually the GROUND floor and so on up to level 6.
Momentarily stunned by this complete lack of consideration for the unwary visitor, I pause to consider whether I believe that pressing the button next to STAR will achieve my objective.
I know I want to go DOWN because I am clearly UP. But how far DOWN do I want to go? One floor, of course, because I am only UP one level.
I’ll save you the suspense…I got to the meeting ok. But I haven’t told you the best part.
This cleverly numbered elevator is in a parking garage that serves a building full of office suites. You know…the kind consultants and start-ups hang out in so that their PROSPECTS and CLIENTS (read VISITORS) can come see them and be impressed?
Indeed. Just as soon as they pass the “what level am I on?” test presented by the elevator designers.
Elevator button creativity is a widespread phenomenon. In the Peachtree Center, they got the “1″ for Ground right, but the level below that is “ML” – for Mall. Apparently the elevator design crew never heard the word “mall” in a general context, such as an outdoor park.
In Colony Square, they like “L” for lobby, but the levels below that are C1 and C2…presumably for “C”ars? Ahh…but not all elevators can reach these levels…like it’s a secret clubhouse.
Well, I’ve had enough. I am officially launching the Elevator Buttons Standards Commitee (EBSC). We will meet for the next several years and then issue an optional draft specification. There’s probably a government grant we can apply for. Look for the whitepaper.