Contracting: project duration estimation

Subject: Contracting: project duration estimation
From: "Beth Kane" <kanerb -at- concentric -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 4 Jun 2001 10:23:33 -0700

It looks like I'm about to get my first independent contract, since leaving
captive tech writing. During the interview, the client asked me my hourly
rate. This week he's going to ask me for an estimate -- how long it will
take me to complete the project. In 10 years as a captive, I was never asked
to tightly pin down a time frame -- my managers did that.

Can someone give me suggestions on how to come up with a fairly accurate
estimate? It sounds difficult, especially with an unknown company. I've
heard many people say you should figure how long it will take, then double
that amount (and maybe add even more time). Totally arbitrary. I realize
it's better to overestimate; then you look good when you finish it sooner
than you said you would. But I'd much rather come up with a reality-based
estimate than a SWAG.

Right now I know very little about the project. I believe it will be
end-user docs for a web-based UI.

I expect to meet with the client by tomorrow. I plan to get plenty of
details -- ask how many windows and dialog boxes are in the UI, whether
development is complete or ongoing, how many SMEs I'll be working with and
what their availability is like, whether troubleshooting docs need to be
written, or error message explanations...what else? Any more thoughts on
realistic variables I can ask the company to supply, to assist me in drawing
up an estimate? Any special estimation techniques out there??

Thanks very much!

Beth Kane
Senior Technical Writer, freelance
kanerb -at- concentric -dot- net


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