Capturing Costs and Value of Research Products



By Anne Johnson

Demographic Statistical Methods Division
U.S. Bureau of the Census

Washington, DC, USA




The nature of research projects does not lend itself to project management. Requirements are rarely concrete, scope is evolving, and each project is an entirely new problem to find solutions for. With so much unpredictability, how can we possibly estimate research costs accurately? Is there a way to determine the value of research products?

This paper will discuss the project management methods and processes developed to help estimate costs, manage budgets, and better determine the value of products for research initiatives. I will also discuss useful tips on how to effectively manage costs and budget from the planning phase through project closeout.


Research is an approach to solving problems, developing new methods, and improving existing processes. Research involves creativity, trial and error, and exploration, exposing it to variability, unknowns, and risk. How can we possibly assign a level of effort to a research initiative when all these factors are at play?

From my experience managing externally sponsored, reimbursable research projects at the U.S. Census Bureau, the budgets for these initiatives are never large, scope is complex and ever-evolving, and the process for initiating and tracking these projects was often informal and inconsistent. Due to the nature of research projects, it was challenging to avoid issues, such as poorly estimated costs, budget overruns, and scope creep. It was also difficult to determine the value of the final ‘product’.

In this paper, I will discuss methods to improve cost estimation, budget management, and how to better determine the value of research.


The goal of cost estimation is to produce an estimate that is accurate, all-encompassing, reasonable, and defensible. Achieving all of these factors is not easy, especially when estimating costs for research initiatives. Here is an eight-step cost estimation process that can help accomplish this goal.

Cost Estimation Process:

  1. Determine Scope
  2. Provide Historical Data
  3. Estimate Effort
  4. Estimate Costs
  5. Review & Update Cost Estimate
  6. Develop Cost Estimate Memo
  7. Send & Negotiate Cost Estimate
  8. Follow Up & Finalize

Below I will go into each step in more detail, adding in some best practices and lessons learned.

Step 1: Determine Scope

Work with the project sponsor to determine the scope.

  • Start with the overall goals of the project then break that down further into requirements
  • Ensure that the final deliverable is defined (i.e. a final report on project findings)
  • Discuss constraints, initial risks, and any information that could be useful to the project
  • Determine if the project is feasible given staff skillsets, availability, and timeframe
  • Make sure key project stakeholders are in agreement and fully understand the scope
  • Set realistic expectations

Lesson Learned: This step is crucial! It sounds simple, but too often projects have ill-defined scope and the final product is unclear. You are almost guaranteed to experience scope creep and/or budget issues down the line if you do not thoroughly discuss and agree to expected outcomes of the project.


To read entire paper, click here


Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 6th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2019.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Johnson, A. (2019). Capturing Costs and Value of Research Products; presented at the 6th Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium, College Park, Maryland, USA in May 2019; PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue VIII, September.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/pmwj85-Sep2019-Johnson-capturing-cost-and-value-of-research-products.pdf



About the Author

Anne Johnson

Washington, DC, USA




Anne Johnson graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics and Economics in 2012. Shortly after graduating, Anne began her career at the US Census Bureau working in the Economic Directorate as an analyst on the Service Annual Survey and the 2012 Economic Census.

Anne joined the Demographic Statistical Methods Division as a project manager in February of 2015. She has provided project management support to the American Housing Survey, National Survey of College Graduates, the Current Population Survey Supplements, and Survey Methodology research projects. In this role, Anne has developed and managed over 50 project schedules, produced cost estimates for survey work and research projects, monitored the budgets for reimbursable projects, created reports to assist management with resource allocation and budget management, developed training materials, and managed contracts as a COR.

Anne received a Master’s Certificate in Project Management, her PMP certification in 2016 and her COR certification in 2017.

Anne Johnson can be contacted at anne.e.johnson@census.gov