Writing Assistance, Inc.

Estimating a Technical Writing Project: Part 2 – Details

by Robert Klemm

Image for Estimating a Technical WRiting Project Part 2

In Estimating a Technical Writing Project: Part 1 a few “Key Assumptions” were given to be able to properly scope a project.

Part 1 Key Assumptions were:

  • Ten weeks to complete the writing
  • Three operating manuals for three different machines
  • Existing documentation is out of date
  • There are existing illustrations and pictures (will probably need updating).
  • Whoever you need available to talk to, the plant will make them available.

General and operational questions were also suggested to help the writer better understand the “Level of Effort” (LOE) required. There was also a brief discussion about typical organizational structure and how to calculate the LOE required. In Part 2 — Details I will provide a more comprehensive examination of typical variables that impact technical writing project estimation.

It has been said that every project has three basic parameters; time, quality, and scope (See Figure 1). If any of these three parameters change after the writer fee and client costs have been agreed upon, the LOE for the project will change. This change will directly impact the fee and/or the client costs.

Image for Estimating a Technical writing Project Part 2

Any change in any of these parameters will require a lesser or greater LOE on the part of the writer. For example:

  • “Time” — Move the due date forward and the LOE will become greater (more time required for the shortened time).
  • “Scope” — Remove some deliverable requirements and the LOE will go down for the project.

In both these examples we assume that the quality of the deliverables is constant. If, however, the quality is downgraded to just a draft deliverable verses a finished product, the LOE will go down.

Now let’s examine the original “Key Assumptions” for a different perspective on LOE estimation.

Key assumption 1: Ten weeks to complete the writing. The question is, “How to calculate the hours required within the 10 weeks?” Are the hours a literal calendar period of 10 weeks (70 days), with a “due date” at the end of 10 weeks identifying a specific day on the calendar? Or is the 10 weeks a measure of hours allotted for the project (40 x 10 = 400). The answer can have an impact on the LOE required for the writing project’s LOE estimation. The project may be doable within 10 weeks, but only if weekends and 12-hour days are worked. Usually calculations are based on 40 hour weeks.

Key assumption 2: Three operating manuals for three different machines. The question here is, “How similar in operation and complexity are the machines?” The writer may be able to develop one template for all three machines (which would lower the required development time), or the manual content may be very different and no one template would fit all three.

For example:

  1. One manual may require the typical operational sections: Safety, Start-up, Sampling/Inspections, Normal Operations, Shut-Down, Up-sets, and Documentation.
  2. A second might require, special lab sampling, processing, and handling plus all the typical operational sections.
  3. The third might be completely different, requiring the operator to do involved calculations, line processing documentation, and reporting.

A “common” development template will probably not work for this project, and development time will be significantly increased because of the diversity and complexity of the process. Do not assume in the LOE estimate that manual 2 or 3 will take less time to develop than manual 1. In this example there will not be much carry over from one manual to the next.

The opposite is true for manuals that describe similar operational characteristics. There will be “some-to-significant” carry-over to reduce the time required to develop manuals 2 and 3.

Key assumption 3: Existing documentation is out of date. Probe this key assumption carefully. This statement by a client can mean anything from revision dates are not current, to machines have been upgraded, changed, or discontinued, and we have not had time to update the documentation.

Often documentation is out of date because it is not user-friendly and is not seen as beneficial. Determining where the existing documentation is on a scale 1 (not much use) to 5 (very useful) will be critical when estimating time required for the development of project deliverables.

Key assumption 4: There are existing illustrations and pictures (will probably need updating). This key assumption can be very time consuming, especially if the illustrations or pictures are not incompatible formats or require detailed editing. Some engineering software is not too compatible with latest versions of MS-Word or readily transportable in PDF format. Any conversions from one format to another or detailed revisions require time. As a rule, allot at least 1 to 1-1/2 hours of detailed revision time per illustration.

Remember at least another day can be spent taking pictures or video (if required) to include in the project documentation. In the extreme case, I have taken over 1800 pictures and 24 short videos of a process that included 8 machine centers.

Key assumption 5: Whoever you need available to talk to, the plant will make them available. This would be great, but many times the people you need are on different shifts, or on days off. Work arounds are performed, but this can increase the time required to gather information critical to the development of the project. Expect delays and have a flexible schedule. Some of this “down” time can be recovered, but allow for extra hours in the overall time estimate.

When a plant has a 24/7 shift arrangement, expect to split your days and nights during the plant visit to gather material. The most efficient way to gather information given the plant schedule is to make yourself available at shift turnovers for all three shifts.

The case presented in Part 1 showed it would take 1 – 1/3 technical writers 10 weeks to finish the project given these 5 key assumptions. Now that we have taken a more in-depth look at the assumptions, let’s address what could be done to complete the project in the required calendar time of 10 weeks.  Assuming the worse for all the key assumptions the calculations yield the following results:

5-day workweek X 10 weeks = 50 days x 8 hours = 400 hours x 1.3 (1-1/3 technical writers) = 520 hours

520 hours + adverse Key assumptions multiplier of 15% = 520 x 1.15 = 598 hours to complete the project.

598 hours / 10 weeks (50 work days) = 11.96 hrs. a day.

598 hours / 10 weeks (60 work days) = 9.96 hrs. a day.

598 hours / 15 weeks (75 work days) = 7.97 hrs. a day.

As you can see from the above calculations, this project can be completed working the first two of the following schedules:

  • 10 weeks @ 12hrs./day @ 5 days/week
  • 10 weeks @ 10hrs./day @ 6 days/week


  • 15 weeks @ 8hrs./day @ 5 days/week

About the author

Robert Klemm, Phd., has over 30 years’ experience designing, developing, and writing technical manuals, procedures, and training programs for engineers, technicians, operators, and maintenance personnel in manufacturing, pharmaceutical, chemical, wood products, health care, and service industries. Companies served by Robert realized substantial cost reductions (up to 18%), decreased product cycle time (up to 24%), and reduced customer complaints. Additional experience includes analyzing, researching, and developing the specifications for new business processes and start-ups. You can connect with Robert through Writing Assistance, Inc. at www.writingassist.com or sales@writingassist.com.

Related article