MITRE's Cost-Estimating Methodology Saves Time and Money Through Information Sharing

September 2014
Daniel Harper
Daniel Harper

As a specialist in information technology cost estimating, MITRE's Daniel Harper has a dual focus—to provide his customer with comprehensive and accurate cost estimates while also sharing a MITRE-developed methodology for creating and communicating the cost information.

Harper is an economic analyst within the National Security Engineering Center, the federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) MITRE operates for the Department of Defense. In an era where agencies are under constant pressure to keep costs down, developing a comprehensive and accurate cost estimate is a critical component to every project. That's where Harper's expertise comes into play.

"I focus on identifying and incorporating all the costs of a project ahead of time," he says. "The goal is to have a detailed estimate of what a project will cost from beginning to end—before starting the work. It's very different from accounting, where the focus is on reconciling costs after the project is complete."

Putting together an accurate cost estimate requires considerable research and communication. "You start by formulating a data-collection approach. You then work with the project team to communicate the type of data you need and determine the appropriate format.

"Good communication among the estimating team, the MITRE engineers, and the customer is extremely important. The cost estimate is only as good as the data used to create it."

Getting the "FACTS"

Harper, who's been at MITRE since 2010, quickly recognized that there were lessons learned and standard cost estimating methodologies that could be customized and shared with other customers and applied to different projects. His solution was the creation of an award-winning knowledge-management community called the Cost FACTS Group.

Working with his colleague Ruth Dorr, Harper developed Cost FACTS—an acronym that stands for "factors, analogies, cost estimating relationships, and tools/studies." Cost FACTS is an easily accessible repository of reusable cost-estimating artifacts.

"The Cost FACTS Group provides a forum as well as a repository for developing and sharing a systematic and consistent way of cost and schedule estimating," he says. "Best of all, it is a free resource that anyone in the federal cost community can subscribe to."

In addition, the Cost FACTS Group uses Handshake—a MITRE-developed tool (built on the Elgg platform) that's designed to easily share information among MITRE staff, partners, and customers while keeping information protected and secure.

"I think the Cost FACTS Group is a good example of MITRE's core capabilities in knowledge management because it's agile," Harper says. "With Cost FACTS, and using Handshake as a platform, community members can join with minimal training.

"If you can upload a video to YouTube, you can use Cost FACTS and Handshake."

Tangible Benefits

After spending several years in the private sector, Harper values MITRE's role as a trusted adviser. "As an operator of FFRDCs, we're not providing a service that requires an ongoing license fee or trying to sell a particular brand or service. We have the independence and neutrality necessary to serve as a facilitator/host of the Cost FACTS Group, essentially a forum for the government cost community to share and dialogue. MITRE also has a broad spectrum of customers across the civilian, intelligence, and defense communities so we're well situated to build bridges between them."

Additionally, the Cost FACTS forum costfacts@mitre.org is open to government contractors, other FFRDCs, academia, and cost tool providers as well, further broadening the opportunities for beneficial exchanges.

Harper also appreciates the work-life flexibility MITRE offers. "When I first came to MITRE, I worked at the corporation's McLean, Va., campus. Then two years ago I was able to relocate to our Eglin-Hurlburt site in northwest Florida." With a wide variety of corporate tools available, he works seamlessly with staff and customers around the country.

Moving to Florida has been beneficial from a family perspective, too. "I don't have the long commute that I used to have," he says. "Plus, we really enjoy the outdoor lifestyle that we have down here."

—by Kay M. Upham

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