document-428338_640Two clients recently requested proposals for training design and development work. Normally, I’d be thrilled. But, in both cases, the requests made me nervous. Why?

Scope Change Story

I like my estimates to be accurate. The more defined the project scope, the more accurate the estimate.  This way if we go over budget, it’s clear that a change in scope was the cause. It’s much easier for our clients to justify a request for additional funding if they have a clear scope change story to tell.

Without a definitive rationale, a request for additional funding can be tricky. Generally speaking, executives aren’t thrilled at the prospect of loosening the purse strings just because the training consultant says the project is going to cost more. Strangely enough, they always want to know why.

Design & Development Dilemma

This brings me to my dilemma with these two proposal requests. Both included design and development.

That’s a little like asking an architect how much it will cost to build a house he hasn’t designed yet. Naturally, a beach bungalow is going to cost less than a sprawling mansion. Training projects are the same. It’s going to cost less to develop a job aid than an e-learning course.

Sometimes a training project is straightforward enough that the consultant can do a pretty good job of guessing enough about the design to be able to predict fairly accurately the cost of development. But, this is not always the case.

1, 2, 3…

As I talked to my clients, I realized that they didn’t know how training consultants estimated projects. Why would they? So, I explained my system.

I get crazy about counting. I count things such as the number of subject matter experts to be interviewed, estimated number of screens in an e-learning course, number of pages and types of pages in a job aid, number of case studies, and even number of minutes in a software simulation.

The better job I do of counting, the easier it is for our team members to assess the amount of work that needs to be done. It’s also easier for me to hold them to these estimates once the project gets underway because their estimates are tied to objective numbers rather than something squishy.

Leveraging Assets

In addition to counting, I also look for assets the client possesses that we can leverage to speed the development work. If possible, I actually collect these assets. This provides our team members with even more information that may influence their estimates. For example, on a recent project we were able to leverage a template for PowerPoint slides that the client had created. This saved the graphic designer a day’s worth of work.

Getting an Accurate Estimate

Of course, I can’t count or provide assets if I don’t know what the design will look like. This means my estimate is basically a WAG based on past projects, which I hope to dear life prove similar enough to serve as realistic benchmarks. This is a huge risk for our clients, who are left in the uncomfortable position of having to ask for more money if I am wrong.

This is the reason I always recommend separating the design work from the development work when requesting training proposals. It’s the best way for clients to increase their chances of getting an accurate estimate.