Thursday, March 31, 2011

Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources

Instructional designers are often asked to estimate the cost of training projects, whether through a formal bidding process or a casual discussion. As a newer designer, it can be pretty intimidating to try to assess the cost of the instructional design methods we've learned. Here are some resources to help:

Greer, M. (2009). Estimating instructional development (ID) time. Retrieved from .
Greer's excellent Project Management Minimalist book is one of the texts for our class, and I've found his writing to be clear and thought-provoking. This page is one of many from Greer's site, and two pieces of advice stuck out for me:
  1. Be careful with rules of thumb. It's common to hear shorthand rules like 300:1 or 15:1 for development time, usually representing the idea that it takes 300 hours of development to produce 1 hour of a particular kind of instruction. Greer feels that rules of thumb aren't especially useful because they're so variable as to produce meaningless estimates.
  2. Pay close attention to the "non-writing" portions of the project. Most of us became instructional designers because we're interested in developing instruction, so we leap right toward estimating the costs of the instructional design time. In our excited rush, we may miss the huge amount of time spent in communications, document preparation, etc., and vastly underestimate the total cost of the project.
Clark, D. (2010). Estimating costs and time in instructional design. Retrieved from . 
I've often returned to Don Clark's website during my ID program. His writing is direct but also comfortable, as if I'm an apprentice learning from an experienced master. He has an excellent page about estimating costs that provides a variety of ballpark estimates for different instructional design tasks, which gives a useful baseline for estimation. While his approach does use ratios, he qualifies them heavily to make it clear which ratios are likely to be appropriate. Clark also includes links to a bunch of other resources like free stock photos and cost estimation spreadsheets.

Cook, J. (2010). How to estimate training time and costs. Retrieved from .
I wasn't familiar with Jenice Cook's writing until this assignment, and I've now added it to my collection of RSS feeds. Her post stands as an excellent annotated bibliography of ID cost estimation writing from some prominent members of the field. She also advocates a slightly different approach with first-time clients: working on an hourly rate as the project progresses, so that everyone has a constant sense of where things stand.

Defelice, R., & Kapp, K. (2009). Time to develop one hour of training. Retrieved from
If nothing else, the fact that this is published by ASTD should draw our attention. Defelice & Kapp surveyed a number of experienced IDs to find out how much time it takes to build training programs in a variety of different categories. The report also contrasts 2009 data with data from 2003. This provides a really valuable look at how expectations within the ID field are changing, and it's a strong data source for discussion with clients. In addition, the authors include several recommendations for increasing the speed of projects and keeping them from getting bogged down.


  1. Hello Hollis…

    First, thank you for the posted information on estimations for different I.D. tasks. It’s a keeper… Second, I can definitely identify with how much time is consumed for communication and how it could be underestimated to the total cost of a project. I think another reason for that is because people seem to want to avoid communication, when it means work, so when it happens, it’s not in the plan I think; therefore, not in the budget.
    In week.4 video, Troy Achong expressed a fact on some resource challenges. She mentioned how time-consuming task (like getting everyone at the same place for a scheduled meeting) have a huge impact on projects. She also mentioned how these kinds of things suck-up your time that has nothing (directly-related) to do with the project.


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