SWAG Estimates in Project Management

In project management, the Swag estimate is a rough estimate of the amount of work that needs to be done to complete a project. This estimate is typically made during the early stages of a project when there is still a lot of uncertainty about the scope and requirements. This method emphasizes the delivery of results rather than process or outputs as it is based on the expected value, which is the average of all possible outcomes. 

SWAG is a simple yet effective technique used in project management as a tool that helps to roughly estimate the cost, time, and resources required for a project.  SWAG stands for Scientific Wild-ass Guess.

The swag technique can be used for various projects, from small tasks to large-scale initiatives. If you are planning a project, this tool can help you estimate the resources you will need and the time it will take to complete the project.

Benefits of using SWAG Estimate

In project management, time can be money, and it is essential to accurately estimate the time required to complete a project to avoid unforeseen delays or cost overruns. Using this tool can be pretty beneficial for your organization.

  1. It is swift and easy to do, just like a ballpark estimation
  2. It can be used when there is very little information available about a project
  3. It can be relatively accurate
  4. SWAG can be done without any specialized knowledge or training
  5. It can be used for a variety of different projects

Overall, the estimating technique is a valuable tool that can help save time and money on projects.

How is the Swag Estimate Determined?

This estimate is based on the principle of scope, time, and resources. It is highly valuable when determining the project’s budget and organizing its timeline.

SWAG estimates can be determined using a scoring system that considers the project’s complexity, the team’s experience level, and customer expectations. 

This system is designed to provide a more accurate estimate of the value that the software development team will deliver.

Swag Estimate in Agile 

Now that we clearly understand SWAG, we can begin to answer how it is estimated in project management with an agile project.

Many Agile teams discuss swag estimation. For example, estimating the story points for backlog items in Agile is a common practice.

In agile software development, estimating the time to complete a task or project is often needed.

When estimating, you can use a scoring system that takes into account the following points –

  • The complexity of the project
  • The team’s experience level
  • The customer’s expectations.

SWAG estimate represents the value that will be delivered to the customer by the software development team. This estimate will be based on several factors, such as –

  • Including the complexity of the task
  • The size of the team
  • The experience of the team members

Time estimation is difficult because each team has its own definition of a point. However, you can determine a rough estimate of your team using techniques like T-shirt sizes, while some other teams use the Fibonacci sequence to understand how long the project will take. 

Components of a SWAG Estimate Project Management

When estimating the cost of a software project, a few key components must be considered to get an accurate project estimating.
These components include.

Cost of materialsCost of LaborCost of Overhead
It includes the cost of any software licenses that may be required, as well as the cost of any hardware that will be used in the projectThe overhead cost includes the cost of office space, internet access, and any other indirect costs that may be associated with the project.The cost of overhead includes the cost of office space, internet access, and any other indirect costs that may be associated with the project.

Taking all of these factors into account can give a more accurate estimate of the actual cost of a software project.

Creating a SWAG estimation and making it accurate

A work breakdown process can turn them into high-level components and estimate each part using a standard or knowledgeable approach.

You should focus on achieving tangible and measurable objectives and goals, so make sure you focus on the most essential things and delivering results. 

What if you don’t have a team and need to estimate your project quickly?

Agile SWAG Estimate Example

Imagine you’re the project manager for XYZ Corporation and have just been assigned to develop an eCommerce store for X client. The question is: How much will this project cost?  

Based on your expertise and knowledge, you can quickly sum up all the components and estimate the time depending on your team size and their skills.

For example, you GUESS it takes 6 months to develop this software, which may cost 2,000 to complete the project. The total sum of the components and the average of all these would be your SWAG number.  Once you have an overall estimate, you will have a rough number to give you a general idea of the project. But it will be defined by GUESSES.

However, this number sometimes leads to errors with resources and time. This is why this estimation should always be followed up with more detailed and accurate techniques like the PERT formula.

PERT vs. SWAG Estimate

Although PERT FORMULA is more accurate than SWAG estimation, it can be more time-consuming and detailed.

PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique) is a more reliable way to estimate the time necessary to complete a project because it estimates:

The individual task duration

The uncertainty of the tasks

The plan for what needs to be done if the project takes longer than expected

The PERT formula takes into account the three main variables that can impact the timelines of a project:

  • The optimistic estimate (O)
    •  which is the shortest amount of time the project could take
  • The most likely estimate (M)
    • which is the most likely amount of time the project will take
  • The pessimistic estimate (P)
    •  which is the longest amount of time the project could take

To calculate the PERT estimate, you first need to find the average of the optimistic and pessimistic estimates. This is done by adding the O and P estimates and dividing by two. You then add this average to the most likely estimate (M) to get the PERT estimate

This is the formula

E = (O + 4M +P) / 6

Although the PERT FORMULA is more accurate than the SWAG estimate, it can be more time-consuming, but it is considered much more reliable.

Pitfalls when doing an Agile SWAG estimate in Software Development

Software development is a complex process, and estimation is one of its most challenging aspects. Estimating the time and resources required for a project is essential for its success, but it is also notoriously tricky to get it right.

Cons Of SWAG Estimate

  • Not recommendable for extremely unusual projects
  • It is not very accurate and can lead to unrealistic expectations, meaning that it can give stakeholders a false sense of confidence in the accuracy of the estimate
  • It is essential to keep in mind that SWAG estimation is only an approximation and should not be used as the sole source of information for planning and decision-making
  • It’s not a guarantee, and it’s essential to have a contingency plan in place in case the amount of work required exceeds the estimated amount.


What is the Swag Estimate in a nutshell?

SWAG estimation can be a helpful tool for determining the time and resources needed to complete a project.

How accurate is the Swag Estimate?

The SWAG is an informed approximation, although it is not considered the best or most accurate assessment. Just keep in mind that the Swag Estimate is just an estimate. It does not guarantee the actual cost, time, or effort required for the project.

What are the KEY components needed for a Swag estimation?

When estimating, consider the cost of materials as the total, the number of people involved in the project, and the indirect costs that may affect the project in general.

What are the skills required to create a SWAG estimate?

As it is a rough estimate, a specialist can easily give it based on their expertise and previous perception of similar projects.

Shane Drumm

Shane Drumm

Shane Drumm, holding certifications in PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CSM, and LPM, is the author behind numerous articles featured here. Hailing from County Cork, Ireland, his expertise lies in implementing Agile methodologies with geographically dispersed teams for software development projects. In his leisure, he dedicates time to web development and Ironman triathlon training. Find out more about Shane on shanedrumm.com and please reach out and connect with Shane on LinkedIn.

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