How do you accurately estimate course dev time?

It's probably the toughest question we're asked to answer at the outset of an e-learning project: how long is it going to take?

Over the years I've seen some great discussions of this topic, but I'd like to re-open this one for some fresh ideas. How do you provide an accurate estimate of course development time? What tools, tricks, or lessons learned can you share with folks who are struggling with this question?

3 Replies
Phil Mayor

This is always a difficult one to estimate. I have been doing this for over seven years and have probably built in the region of 500+ courses, and every project (irrespective of how I costed the project) has had the time tracked, so I can use an algorithm to estimate the time.

I estimate that any project will take 4-7 hours to set up and create a POC) after that I try to work on the clients estimate of how long they think the course length is. My basic cost is 1 minute of elearning needs 1 hour of my time.  So a 30 minute course will be 5-7 + 30 = 35+ hours.

My next calculation is based on the complexity of the course a basic course needs no adjustment. An intermediate complexity course will add a premium of 20-30% and a very advanced course can be in the region of +50-100%.

Any subsequent projects with the same client will not incur the setup fee, all other calculations remain the same.My calculation includes all review cycles and also and illustration work that I will do, but will not include the cost of voice over (it will include the integration of the voice over) The key is to have detailed conversations with the client to scope out the requirements and to ensure their expectations are met, this is one of the key reason why I will always produce a proof of concept. There is a bit of an art in gauging the complexity and matching the cost to reflect this, I rarely end up over budget these days on projects.

Judy Nollet

An "accurate estimate" is the hardest part of course development. I typically provide a range -- and it might be fairly wide if there are a lot of unknowns about the content. In the Statement of Work, I list factors that impact the time/cost. It's also helpful to list what's in scope, what's out of scope, and other assumptions (such as the number of reviews), so that you can easily spot scope creep.

Phil's recommendation for 1 hour of development time per minute of eLearning is a good start, assuming you have a course with an accurate time estimate, i.e., a narrated course. For a course without audio or video elements, consider using development time per slide (if you can roughly estimate that).

I think what many people forget is that "how long will it take" includes more than the hours you spend creating the course in Storyline or Rise. It includes all of the following:

  • Spending time to understand the content (assuming you want a well organized, well written, well designed course.)
  • Communicating with SMEs, reviewers, and others involved in the project (If you track time, you'd be surprised how much of a time suck meetings, phone calls, and emails can be.)
  • Locating appropriate photos/graphics
  • Handling reviews
  • Creating quiz questions (It can be easy to write a good question and the correct response; it's not so easy to write good distractors.)
  • Publishing and testing the course (including working with the LMS folks)
  • Backing up/transferring files

That's my 2-cents' worth. I'm interested in reading how others approach estimates!

Phil Mayor

I agree wholeheartedly with all of the above, I will always add in an element of contingency and throughout the development and review process there may be things that add to or reduce the final cost. I forgot to mention that in the above costs I budget for three review cycles additional review cycles are then charged on an hourly rate. This also relies on a single person at the client end being responsible for the course build and feedback, as this can really eat time trying to please more than one client.