“I need ballpark costs. And I need them tomorrow!” screamed the e-mail. “Can you pull together some rough costs for me – don’t need to be based on contacting facilities, don’t go to a lot of trouble – I’ll put a caveat into the proposal that these are only estimated.”The specs accompanying this request were practically non-existent. Something about four markets and consumers of a particular brand of protein bar. And a couple of the markets were small, out-of-the-way cities.What we didWe determined that no focus group facilities existed in these towns. Hotels might be needed for conducting the groups. We learned that no recruiters existed in these markets, either. Interesting…”Don’t contact any facilities,” said the RFQ. “Don’t go to a lot of trouble.” Could we provide the requested ballpark costs? Did we? No. Here’s why.Every project is differentEach project has its own challenges. It’s difficult to give ballpark costs, especially when estimating costs for services we don’t provide…hotel setup, audio/visual services and unconventional recruiting methods in unfamiliar markets. Estimated costs could be significantly higher than the actual costs. Or they may not be. With few exceptions, it’s silly to request, provide or receive ballpark costs.What to doInsist on more meaningful specs. Most projects are more complicated than ballpark estimates will cover. The project we were asked to ballpark involved hotels. Markets without recruiters. Markets where the client’s product wasn’t being sold (but was supposed to be!). Turned out cost wasn’t the issue. Executing the recruiting was. Finding the right respondents would require extremely creative and industrious vendors. And the costs reflected that.Ballpark costs are misleading Besides obvious cost implications, ballpark costs don’t offer reasonable assurance that a project is doable. Ballpark costs don’t take into account obstacles, whether actual or perceived, that could send the project down the wrong track – or derail it. Ballpark costs don’t include expert advice about incentives, group start times, venue fees, over-recruiting suggestions and recruiting methods and fees. Ballpark costs, at best, don’t tell the whole story.In response to the ballpark cost request, we went to “a lot of trouble” to understand the scope and degree of difficulty of the project. Sure, we could have thrown some numbers together and given some rough figures. But who benefits from that?