Estimating Part 2 – Using a Dependency Calculator

Every project has risks. There is no escaping it. A good estimator knows what types of risks will affect the cost of the project and is able to adjust the estimate to mitigate the impact. This article explains how to use a Dependency Calculator to create more accurate estimates. A link to download the Dependency Calculator is provided below.

My Dependency Calculator is an Excel spreadsheet that makes the risk calculations easier. It is based on the information provided by JoAnn T. Hackos in her book Managing Your Documentation Projects. Though the book focuses on documentation, the estimating risks are applicable for training projects too. The spreadsheet uses the estimating formulas for documentation and training provided in my last post Estimating Formulas for Documentation and Training and it adjusts the final estimate based on several weighted dependencies. Those dependencies are:

  • Product Stability / Completeness – Have you ever been asked to start writing a manual or training program for a product that is not yet complete? Well, that is a project risk that can cost you money.
  • Information Availability – How are you getting the information to write the documentation or training program? Is the information easy to get and how complete it is?
  • Prototype Availability – Has a document or training program been developed in the past on which you can base the structure of this project or is additional time needed to include a prototype development phase?
  • Subject Matter Expert Availability – Will SMEs be available to answer questions and provide information when you need them or will you need to spend time chasing them down?
  • Review Experience – How thoroughly will the project reviewers and approvers look at the document or training program? How long will the reviews take to complete? What is the likelihood of completing the project in a draft and final iteration? Or is it more likely to take several iterations before the project is complete?
  • Technical Experience – This rates the level of technical experience of you and your development team. Does your team know the product or subject? What is your team’s level of experience with the development software?
  • Writing and Design Experience – What is your and your team’s level of writing and design experience for this type of project?
  • Audience Understanding – This rates how well you and your team knows what the audience requirements are. Is an audience analysis phase required for this project, or is that information already available?
  • Team Experience – What experience do you and your team have in working together on a project? Even if both of your writers are senior-level, if they have not worked together before it make take extra time for them to find their groove.

Now that you know what the dependencies are, I should explain a little about how to rate them.

Each dependency is rated individually by selecting a score of 1 to 5 (best case scenario to worst case scenario). For example, if there is no information on a new product, requiring you to do research, then selecting 5 for Information Availability adds time to the final estimate to account for the research time. Likewise, if the SMEs are experts dedicated to the project and are available at any time, then selecting a 1 for Subject Matter Expert Availability subtracts a percentage from the final estimate to account for unneeded time. Personally, I never select a rating lower than a 3 which neither adds nor subtracts a percentage from the time estimate.

The following image shows an example estimate using the Dependency Calculator.

(Click image to enlarge)

Now that you know how to use it, download a copy of the Dependency Calculator to try out on your next project. Dependency_Calculator