Help me estimate how long it will take to develop a training?
December 3, 2021 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity for a consulting gig developing a new training curriculum, facilitation guide, and training of trainers on a sensitive topic on which I'm an expert. I've developed things like this, on this subject even, before, but as a W2 employee with staff, and I have VERY limited consulting experience. I am terrible at estimating - please help!

I'm not going to be charging hourly, but would like to use an estimate of the number of hours of work this will be to calculate a "not to exceed" cost. I have an idea of what would be reasonable to ask per hour and this seems like the easiest way to do the math. But estimates of how long it takes to develop an hour of training content are ALL OVER THE MAP.

Relevant things - I'm a known expert in this topic, the client reached out to me specifically to do this because it solves a tricky problem and they trust me to approach this with integrity and a strong anti-racist stance, I'm a VERY fast writer, and I'm doing this outside the hours I work in my full time, tangentially-related job. (I cleared it with my employer, no concerns about that.)

I'd especially like to hear from people with consulting experience, better yet if it involved instructional design. How many hours of work would you estimate for this? And/or: if you've done a similar project as a consultant, what did you charge?
posted by centrifugal to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I work for a company as an in-house trainer and all do my colleagues and I are still horrible at estimating so don't beat yourself up. I would say take whatever your first estimate is and double it. We ALWAYS ALWAYS undershoot. Particularly be aware if you have to meet a deadline that if it has to go through editing/review that can take a few weeks. No real advice on the "time to develop an hour of content" angle because it really wildly varies by topic, your familiarity, who you have to work with if anyone, how long the entire course is, etc.
posted by clarinet at 1:06 PM on December 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

I spent the vast majority of my career as an independent consultant, sometimes developing training programs as an adjunct to the project. My general rule of thumb is to figure out approximately how long you think it will take and then triple it. (This is not a joke.) FWIW, I usually costed out proposals in this way, provided it as a "not to exceed" price and assured the client that I would track my time and if it went more quickly than I anticipated they would be billed a lesser amount. No one ever balked at that because they could confidently tell their boss it would cost no more than X and if it came in lower they would be a hero.
posted by DrGail at 1:09 PM on December 3, 2021 [7 favorites]

I recently organised a training and it took eight weeks to get to a pilot. I recommend giving yourself an estimate and then adding four weeks. The best thing you can do is sprint writing and presentation sections using agile methodology. That gets the work done.
posted by parmanparman at 1:16 PM on December 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Having done alot of training-for-hire, as well as workshops/conference sessions, my minimum baseline is that it will take at least twice as long to prepare the material, as it will to present/teach the material.

And - that is for a one-off, single workshop - if there are multiple sessions that need to be coherently linked together thematically, then it will take even longer (triple it!).

And - all of these estimates and sessions were able to leverage my personal internalized "subject-matter-expertise" on the topics. If I had to research and/or would be unfamiliar with the topics, it would take even longer.
posted by rozcakj at 1:17 PM on December 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've built a bunch of trainings, and my rough heuristic is 10:1 prep-to-content -- that is, ten hours of prep for each hour of content. So if I'm developing a two hour course, I'll estimate twenty hours of material development. I treat a day as six hours of content, so 60 hours of material development per day of content.

This is for material that I know well, but that still requires a lot of prep -- developing and testing exercises, making sure samples are correct, and then of course writing and testing the material. I can do it a lot faster if I'm leaving any of those steps out (especially if I don't need to write and validate exercises).
posted by dorothy hawk at 1:33 PM on December 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I sometimes develop courses on moderately technical IT topics. I generally estimate at least 10 hours creation time for every hour of instruction content if it involves hands-on exercises. Just writing a lecture is probably 5:1 but coming up with exercises, developing, and validating them takes a lot of time, particularly if you're not used to doing so.

Non-technical content I can knock out a lot faster, probably a 3:1 ratio.

There's also one-time costs like developing an art/visual design style for the content, learning a new content management platform, etc. that can impact total time spent on a project but won't have a time sink every hour of content.

I would probably count on at least a 3:1 ratio of time to train the trainers.
posted by Candleman at 3:15 PM on December 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: nthing everyone else in saying that give it your best idea of the time involved with the information you have, and then double it (or even triple it). They're paying for your specific expertise. Only you have it and only you know how long it will take you to do the thing you do.

That said, this all may be easier once you accept that your estimate will be wrong. That's ok, only you have to know that. You just don't have the experiential basis yet. You will after the project is done. Make sure you give yourself extra actual calendar hours, blocked out, in case you need them. And forgive yourself if you go over the estimate. They're paying for value anyway, not hours.

Another approach to consider is this. Once you have the hours guestimated and doubled, multiply that by an hourly rate that seems reasonable. Then ask yourself if that total amount feels like good value for your expertise and deliverables. If it's slightly higher than you're comfortable with, that's probably good. If it's too low, raise the hourly rate until you get to that sweet-but-slightly-uncomfortable amount. If you're having to raise the rate too much to get there, you've not allocated enough hours.

Again, this will be wrong. And remember, it's about value anyway. What would you like to get paid for the value you're delivering?
posted by iamkimiam at 4:12 PM on December 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One other consideration if (as I assume) you're both making a presentation to give and training for the trainers so they can present the slides authoritatively. I can put together a slide deck for myself relatively quickly, because I know the subjects and can speak well about the content with the slides mostly serving to prompt me to talk about certain things at certain times.

If you're preparing a presentation for other people to give, I would allot extra time for writing the behind the scenes guide for the trainers. Even if you're writing out the presentation verbatim in the speaker notes, it would be generally useful to have even more background reading for the trainers so they can go beyond regurgitating what's been written for them to able to understand the subject at a deeper level.
posted by Candleman at 12:55 PM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

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