Scoping a Learning Solution – Art or Science? Part 5

Part 5 – Project Plan

This is the fifth and final part of our blog, Scoping a Learning Solution – Art or Science?. If you haven’t read the earlier parts, please do so:

So far in our sample project, we have determined the program duration, selected instructional strategies, finalized development ratios and allocated the required effort for each strategy. There are three factors left that will influence the scope of the learning solution.

1. Indicate the Number of Pilots

The first of these items is the number of pilots to conduct. In our instructional design methodology the pilots are part of the implementation phase but we want to include them in the design scope so they are included in the project plan timeframe. The ‘Science’ of scoping indicates you should plan to conduct pilots. The ‘Art’ is to determine how many pilots to conduct. We believe you should conduct a minimum of two pilots required. The logic behind this suggests that if the first pilot identifies some changes, a second pilot is required to confirm those changes had the desired impact on the learning.

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Returning to the example we have been using, including two pilots adds four days of effort, to cover delivery and revisions, bringing the total design and development effort to 40 days.

2. Estimate Project Management Requirements and Contingencies

The last item required to complete the scoping is the assignment of effort to manage the project and provide some contingencies. From our experience the planning or the work load for a development project is always being driven by the trade-off that is made between the desired completion date and the resources available.

To apply a scientific framework to this balancing act we use some lesser known functions in Excel to calculate the size of the development team required to complete the work within a specific timeframe. The ‘art’ comes from experience that indicates you cannot just keep adding resources to shorten the development window.

It is common practice to estimate the project management effort as a percent of the total development effort. The Performance Management Institute (PMI) suggests the basic project management rates run in the range of 7-11%. To add in some contingencies for the plan FKA starts with a 15% project management planning rate – this would add six days of effort to our example project. Experience has taught us that not all projects are the equal: some are smaller, some larger, some have lower risks and some have higher.

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A small project with a low degree of risk can reduce the default project planning rate down to 5% and allocate two days of effort.

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A larger project with a higher degree of risk sets the project planning rate up to 25% and allocates 10 days of effort.

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Making these judgments on the degree of risk is the ‘Art’ component of project planning. The best way to develop your skill in this area is to record your choices (or assumptions) then do a post-project review and update these planning rates to reflect your experience.

3. Determine Development Team Size

The final step in project planning is to determine how many people are needed on the project team. We said it is always a trade off between time and resources. If the project is driven by the completion date (e.g., “We go live in 2 months!”) then the resource team size must increase to get the work done in that period. On the other hand, if there is only one person to work on the project then the course will be ready in five months. As mentioned earlier, Excel has a function that we have used to help us make this trade-off between time and resources. The function, NETWORKDAYS, calculates the number of available work days between two calendar dates but does account for recognized holidays* when people are not available to work. Holidays extend the development window and impact the end date.

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When this feature is used to record assumptions for our sample project, where the client said it had to be ready in a month, a team of three people would be required to complete the work. On the other hand, if there is only one resource available it is going to take 3.5 months.

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A little negotiation with the project sponsor could result in a comprise. You could: (1) assign two people to the project, and (2) authorize overtime. As a result, the work would be completed in two months. The overtime decision is represented in the spreadsheet by setting the scheduling factor to 120%.

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*There is a handy reference site to help you keep track of holidays, https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/. You select the year and the country and it provides a table of all holiday dates.

Wrapping Up This Series

In the first part of this series we posed a question, “Scoping a learning solution…is it an art or is there some science involved?” In each of the steps in the process we have acknowledged that the ‘Art’ is the judgements required as you make your scoping decisions. The only way to develop your artful skills is to practice scoping a variety of projects and taking the time to learn from each project. The ‘Science’ comes from following a detailed step-by-step scoping process and recording each decision and judgement you make, and possibly adjusting your calculations if your experience suggests you should.

If you would like a complete set of the five blogs in this series, please click here to download.



Jim Sweezie
VP Research and Product Development


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