Project Management 3b. Estimating the Total Time Needed to Complete the Project

In this task, you determine the total number of work days needed for the project. A work day is not the same as a regular day. Although a week contains 7 days, it only contains 5 work days.

You can compute the total number of work days to complete a project in one of two ways.

When You Set the Final Deadline. This is the ideal situation, in which you establish the final deadline for the project based on the amount of time needed to complete the project. To compute the total number of work days needed using this method, you use the appropriate estimating formula based on the medium you are using. For example, if you are preparing a printed manual, you would use the formula for estimating the development time for print.

The fundamental concept underlying each of these estimating formulas is the concept of “finished” work. A finished page represents all of the work involved in preparing the page, including review time, management time, editing time, and preparation of graphics–not just the instructional designer’s or technical communicator’s or instructional designer’s  time.

Table 2 shows formulas for estimating the total development time (in work days) of particular types of technical communication and instructional design projects.

Table 2: Formulas for Estimating the Development Time (in Work Days) for Technical Communication and Instructional Design Projects

Technical Communication Projects

Medium
Formula for Estimating Total Development Time (in Work Days)

Print (such as a user’s guide or reference manual, whether printed directly for customers or sent to them as a PDF file)

Total days needed to complete a printed project

Number of pages / rate (about 1.5 to 2 finished pages/day) = number of work days


Online help or website

Total days needed to complete an online project


Number of topics  / rate (1 to 2 finished topics/day)= number of work days

(Assumes that the lengths of the topics will vary widely but the number of long topics will eventually be balanced by a similar number of short ones.)


Instructional Design Projects

Classroom instruction +

Days needed to complete a finished hour of instruction

(Number of hours of finished instruction) * rate (43 hours of work for each completed hour of instruction)____________7.5 (number of hours in a work day) =  number of work days(Range is 22 to 82 hours)

Virtual classroom instruction (webinar)
Estimated number of days needed to complete a “finished” hour of instruction:

(Number of hours of “finished” instruction) * rate (80 hours of work for each “finished” hour of instruction)____________7.5 (number of hours in a work day) = number of work days

Level 1 e-learning (basic tutorials)+
Estimated number of days needed to complete a “finished” hour of instruction:

(Number of hours of “finished” instruction) * rate (79 hours of work for each completed hour of instruction)____________7.5 (number of hours in a work day) = number of work days(Range is 49 to 125 hours)

Level 2 e-learning (interactive tutorials)+
Estimated number of days needed to complete a “finished” hour of instruction:

(Number of hours of “finished” instruction) * rate (184 hours of work for each completed hour of instruction)____________7.5 (number of hours in a work day) = number of work days(Range is 127 to 267 hours)

Level 3 e-learning (advanced interactivity and multimedia )+
Estimated number of days needed to complete a “finished” hour of instruction

Number of hours of finished instruction) * rate (490 hours of work for each completed hour of instruction)____________7.5 (number of hours in a work day) = number of work days(range is 217 to 716 hours)

Audio
Estimated number of days to complete a project

Estimated number of “finished” minutes____________Hours needed to complete a finished minute of the audio (includes all tasks, such as audio editing) (about 6 to 8 “finished” minutes a day) = = number of work days

Video
Estimated number of days to complete a project

Estimated number of “finished” minutes____________Rate to complete a finished minute ((includes all tasks, such as shooting and video editing)) (about 1 to 3 finished minutes per day) = total number of work days

+ Source: Chapman, B. (2010.) How Long Does It Take to Create Learning? Powerpoint presentation. Salt Lake City, UT: Chapman Alliance.

Note that these formulas are based on averages; the time needed in your organization is likely to vary from this.  Only by closely tracking your own projects can you determine the formulas that work best in your organization.

When available, externally researched estimates are provided.  Note that, for these types of estimates, wide variation in the total number of hours needed to create a finished length of instructional material.

After estimating the length of the project and multiplying that by the work rate (which varies depending on the medium used to instruct or communicate the material), you also need to make two adjustments:

  • Add time to address the fudge factor.  For example, if you determined that a project has moderately stable subject matter, you would add 20 to 30 percent to the estimated length of the project. But if you determined that a project has extremely stable subject matter, you would only add 10 to 20 percent to the estimated length of the project.
  • Plan for holidays, vacations, and other scheduled absences from the project.  For this, add another 15 percent to the schedule.  So, after extending the project to reflect the fudge factor, add another 15 percent to address planned events that will affect the length of the project.

So how does this actually work?   Figure 1 shows an example of calculating the total length of a course design and development project.

Figure 1: Example of Calculating the Total Length of a Course Design and Development Project


Example of Calculating the Length of a Course Design and Development ProjectTotal days needed to complete a simple tutorial:

79 hours (average) of work per hour of finished instruction/ 7.5 (number of hours in a work day).

(Range of hour of work is from 49 to 125 hours per hour of finished instruction.)

Because the instructional design team has no experience with the subject matter, the number of hours of work estimated should be higher than the average, to account for time needed to learn the subject.  The average used will be 105 hours of work for each hour of finished instruction.
Creating the tutorial involves preparing a series of Powerpoint slides and a script to accompany them, recording the narration, and preparing a related test and a guide for tutors who will support the course. The course involves 10 hours of instruction.

Assuming a rate of 105 hours of development (remember, we chose an estimate that is higher than the average because the instructional designers are not familiar with the topic) and 10 hours of instruction, the total number of hours needed to develop the course is:

105 hours * 10 hours = 1050 hours

Note that this represents the contributions of all members of the team, not just the instructional designer.

Next, convert the total number of work hours to work days.

1050 hours/7.5 hours/day = 140 days

Last, consider the fudge factor.  As part of an initial needs assessment, the instructional designer determined that the subject matter is moderately stable.  So a fudge factor of 25 percent will be added.

140 days * + (140 days*.25) = 140 days + 35 days = 175 days

How many work weeks are involved? To get the basic number of work weeks, divide the total number of days–in this case, 175–and divide by 5: 35 weeks.

But you have not yet considered time away for holidays, sick leave, and other purposes. Add 15 percent to your estimate to arrive at the total number of work weeks needed to complete the project:

35 weeks + (35*.15) = 35 weeks + 5.25 weeks = 40.25 weeks

The total number of weeks estimated for this project is 40.25, and includes a fudge factor as well as an allowance for nonwork days.

Let’s consider another example.  Figure 2 shows an example of calculating the total length of a technical communication project.

Figure 2: Example of Calculating the Total Length of a Technical Communication Project


Example of Calculating the Length of a Technical Communication Project
Total days needed to complete a printed user’s guide:

Rate (about 1.5 to 2 finished pages/day) * number of pages = number of work days

Assuming that the user’s guide has 203 pages and that we are choosing a a rate of 1.5 pages/day (assuming that the writer likely to work on the project has a moderate pace), the total number of workdays needed is:

203/1.5 = 135.33

How many work weeks are involved? To get the basic number of work weeks, divide the total number of days–in this case, 135–and divide by 5: 27 weeks.

Although the subject matter is extremely stable,  assume that you want to leave as large a buffer as possible against unexpected changes,  So you 20 percent to the estimate to address the fudge factor.

27 weeks * (27*.2 (fudge factor)) =27 weeks + 5.4 weeks (fudge factor) = 32.4 weeks

But you have not yet considered time away for holidays, sick leave, and other purposes. Add another .15 percent to address that.

32.4 weeks + (32 weeks * .15 (estimate for planned absences)) = 32.4 + 4.9 weeks = 37.3 weeks

The total number of weeks estimated for this project is 37.3 weeks.

When Your Sponsor Has an Inflexible Final Deadline: Often, when sponsors approach you to develop a course or technical communication product, they have an inflexible final deadline when they need for you to have the finished product available. In such instances, the firm deadline must be the final deadline.

All the same, compute the total time needed to complete the project as you would using the other method. Although you might not have all of this time available to prepare your communication product, you might be able to use this estimate to request that additional people work on the project or that you purchase additional computer software and hardware.

For example, suppose that the sponsor needs the user’s guide just described in 29 weeks, even though you have estimated that the project needs 37.3. By making the sponsor aware that you have removed 8.3 weeks from the schedule (about 23 percent of the total time of the project), you might need 23 percent or more of another resource to make up for the lost time.

Note that the addition of a person for the rest of the time is not an even exchange. A person might be available to fill in for the 23 percent of the time, but they also need to be trained and kept informed about the project, which adds to the time needed.

Continue with the next post, Project Management 3c. Establishing intermediate deadlines.

© Copyright 1996-2012. Saul Carliner. All rights reserved.  If sharing or excerpting, should be properly cited.

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About idmodelsandprocesses

Exploring, reporting, teaching, and advising on learning and communication for the workplace and consumers. saulcarliner.wordpress.com
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