Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources

There is a certain amount of anxiety on projects (more on larger projects) to be “within budget”, depending on the commitment levels and where you are in the scope definition and price assessment process. The repercussions of being "off", or "over-budget" can range from mildly unpleasant to severe; hence, the anxiety. Estimating costs and allocating resources is a skill that project professionals diligently strive to hone because it is the back bone of a successful project run. Others, like me, that are relatively inexperienced with this skill rely on experience or mentors to share their knowledge. I found some resources that provide perspective and tips on how to professionally and successfully estimate project costs and resources.

It is useful to think of “budget” as what you have to spend, and an “Estimate" as what the specific scope of work should cost. It has been my experience that these terms are used interchangeably, but the distinction is an important one. Before you can provide any reasonable estimate, you must clarify the scope first (Stener, 2010). Common sense right? Maybe, but budget-and-scope or estimate-and-scope mismatches happen all the time. I would expect that more change orders, disputes and claims on projects come from "missed scope", or "misunderstanding of what was included", than any other recurring project problem (Stener, 2010).

Big Dog, Little Dog: Performance Juxtaposition: Don Clark

I found Don Clark’s blog early in my Instructional Design program and have been following the feed for some time now. I relate to his writing style because it is straightforward and he tells me clearly what I need to know. (The “skinny”) He provides a detailed write up about estimating costs that can provide the instructional designer with several “at a glance” estimates for individual instructional design tasks. These figures are useful for putting together some preliminary estimates.

SEER software by Galorath

My instructional design background is rooted in Information technology, and I naturally gravitate to software that can help with difficult tasks. SEER is a project management software tool that is a little different than many that are on the market today. Rather than allowing you to simply document and chart your project, it can help you with project cost, effort and duration estimates. There is a great deal of information on this site, including white papers and case studies. It appears that you have to go through a sales representative to get a pricing schedule. I would love to know if anyone has experience with this tool.

Articulate Message Board

Lastly, I found a general discussion on the Articulate forum about the time it takes to create a course. Granted, this is referencing Articulate as the tool of choice but still contains some useful input from many different professionals. It is a virtual melting pot of “experience speak”. 

My web research kept turning up references to an article that Dr. Karl Kapp and Robyn Defelice wrote for the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) , but all of the links noted are pointing to an invalid location. Apparently the article was revised and moved. If anyone has the new link, do let me know because it clearly contained some invaluable information regarding estimating the cost of one hour of training development.


Stener. (2010, June 18). [Web log message].  Retrieved from

Friday, July 13, 2012

Communicating Effectively

To prepare for this blog post, I was asked to view the multimedia program called “The Art of Effective Communication.” It allowed me to view one message delivered in three different ways: written text (email), audio (voice mail) and face to face (video). The email example of the message is to the left.

My first impression of the email message was that Jane was rambling. One of the most important parts of effective communication is …the communication part (“5 tips for,” 2012). I was frustrated before I got to the end of the email because I felt like she was almost apologizing before she asked Mark for what she needed. Granted, I do not understand the relationship between Mark and Jane, so perhaps Jane has reason to be apologetic. I would have simply said: “Mark, when you get a chance, please send over your report data so that I can finalize my report. The deadline is coming up soon , and I need your part by the end of the week. Thanks and appreciate your help.” That is my effort to be clear about what I needed and when I needed it.
Jane’s voice mail message sounded upbeat and genuine without negative emotion. I value that because no one wants to listen to an unenthusiastic robot when picking up voicemails. This can also go a long way in helping others learn to feel comfortable around you (“5 tips for,” 2012). I still felt like she should could have been more direct in specifying what she needed, when she needed it and gave a sense of urgency. Mark likely will put her request at the bottom of the pile after hearing this voicemail.
The most effective communication medium is not to have one at all (Taylor, n.d.). Face to face conversations may not always be the most practical, but it is the most effective. The person receiving the message has the opportunity to pick up on non-verbal cues like eye movement or body language. Also, they have the opportunity to respond or ask questions directly. For me, the video or face to face communication conveyed the real meaning and intent of the message. Somehow, when I saw Jane face to face, I was could see her genuine concern for me and not wanting to interrupt me, but did get the intent that she was worried about her report and needed my help. I did not feel annoyed or frustrated by her apologetic tone and felt more willing to assist her.
This exercise showed me that face to face communication is best whenever possible. It brings a personal nature to the message intent and depending on how the message is delivered, can go a long way in getting the information or results that you need. Email and voicemail can be tools to aid in communication for important updates , but if the message is complex or urgent, then it is best delivered in person.   

5 tips for effective communciation [Web log message]. (2012, April 6). Retrieved from


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Learning from a Project "Post-mortem"

It is important for a project team to review the project as a whole at the end of the project regardless of project success or failure.  This review can lead to a list of lessons learned so mistakes are not continually repeated going forward (Greer, 2010).  I was involved in a proposed project at a software company where the Vice President of Knowledge Management wanted to create an online community for our customers to share ideas, challenges and success stories. It would be an alternative to their usual technical support channels. I knew, in talking with our customers on a regular basis, that many asked for a tool to collaborate with other customers as part of their annual support subscription. I thought the project proposal was excellent and would help sustain our existing support contracts and get people talking about our product. I joined the team as a customer representative and subject matter expert. The concept was excellent, the need was there, and the final design was impressive, but the project was shot down before it ever had a chance to test with customers.

The concept was initiated by the VP, and he also elected to manage the project. This was the first issue that contributed to the project's failure because ultimately, his intentions were not in the best interest of the company. By this, I mean that he believed that the success of this project was going to set him above the rest of the executive staff, thus bolstering his career in the eyes of the company. This set the tone for the whole project plan because he kept the project details on a ‘need to know’ basis.  He wanted to keep as much of the project details secret so that he could stage a big company reveal. In doing this, his focus was purely on the design, and he did not consider any risks, constraints or assumptions. Project managers give themselves the greatest chance for success if they prepare at the outset for how to minimize any associated negative consequences (Portny et al., 2009). The VP set himself up for failure by ignoring potentially negative consequences and focusing only on his personal gain.  His narrow focus proved to be disastrous when he demonstrated his online community prototype to the entire company. His big reveal turned out to be a colossal flop.

Photo credit

During the demonstration, the VP was pelted with questions about site security, maintaining site exclusivity for our customers, product information leakage, and resources for discussion moderation. The company was so put off because these critical factors were not considered that no-one wanted to back the project. Despite the excellent concept and proven customer need, the narrow, selfish focus of the project sponsor, poor project management and restricted communication left the online community idea on the table. To this day, no one has wanted to attempt to conduct a project post-mortem or revive this project, despite the fact that the VP has moved on to another company. 

Greer, M. (2010).  The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Kramer, B. E., & Sutton, M. M. (2009). Project management. John Wiley.