Our schedule on a recent project was cut by a week due to learner availability to attend the class we were developing. A week may not seem like much, but, since our schedule was only six weeks to start, it was significant. We redoubled our efforts and delivered a successful course on time. However, I’ve been involved in projects where a short schedule adversely impacted training results because there was inadequate time to design and develop effective training materials.
Short Schedule Blues
Even though you can work with a short schedule by adding resources to allow the team to perform some work simultaneously, too many cooks in the kitchen causes the Law of Diminishing Returns to set in. You can tell this is happening when issues with version control, consistency, duplication of effort, and people undoing each other’s work start to crop up. Much of the time saved by adding team members disappears as the project manager backtracks, troubleshoots, and corrects faulty work.
A short schedule also limits your options. For example, while a simulation may be the most effective training solution, you may only have time to throw together a PowerPoint deck on short notice.
Long Schedule Blues
A long schedule has issues as well. It can be challenging to maintain momentum to project completion if the schedule moves in fits and starts. In addition, worthwhile training projects can disintegrate into thin air when subject matter experts are reassigned or leave the company over the course of a long schedule.
Figuring Out the Optimum Schedule
So how can you build a schedule that is “just right” for optimizing training results? Start by building a work breakdown structure (WBS) to determine how much time is required to complete the actual work. A WBS is nothing more than a list of tasks to create various training deliverables, along with their corresponding time estimates.
Begin by listing development tasks. Then, estimate the most and the least amount of time it will take to complete each task. The low estimate reflects the amount of time you anticipate a task will take if everything goes according to plan. The high estimate reflects the maximum amount of time you can imagine it will take to complete a given task.
In my experience, if a time estimate is less than a half hour, the tasks are broken down too finely. This leads to overestimating the project. On the other hand, if a time estimate exceeds three or four days, the tasks haven’t been broken down finely enough. This leads to underestimating the project.
Next, check your estimates with the people who will be doing the work. Ask them to verify whether the estimates are realistic and if the task list is accurate and complete.
After completing the WBS, start to schedule the work across calendar days, taking into account weekends, holidays, and vacation days. If you are working with a training vendor or consultant, consider the day the project will actually start. It takes most companies a couple of days to a couple of weeks to get their paperwork in order: contracts signed, background checks completed, and purchase orders issued. Finally, don’t make the mistake of assuming that an eight-hour task will be completed in a single workday. Unless the work will be completed as part of a scheduled meeting, this is rarely the case.
While instruction-to-development time ratios exist, I’ve never found them to be accurate. Time and again, the WBS process has given me a development schedule that is not too long and not too short, but is “just right” for optimizing training results.