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Subject:Re: A salutary lesson From:Fabien Vais <phantoms -at- POP -dot- TOTAL -dot- NET> Date:Sat, 13 Feb 1999 12:53:23 -0500
Thanks to Beth Friedman for reminding us to be very careful when giving an
estimate. I teach Technical Writing at a local university, and this is the
one topic that every student always wants to know about - How do you
estimate the amount of work a certain project (document, online Help system,
etc.) will take? This is particularly difficult when you don't yet have too
much experience. Obviously, I have to tell my students that there is no
magical formula, and that experience an important role in this as in many
It's too easy to put everything on poor old Murphy's back (adding 20% to the
total estimate). You should know ahead of time the kind of things that COULD
take longer than originally expected (like the file structure Beth was
What I sometimes advise people is to provide an estimate, but to also
include a PROVISO. This would say something to the effect that you are
providing this estimate to the best of your knowledge of the product TODAY,
and PROVIDED THAT nothing new comes up, provided that you start working
within a day or two (and not in two weeks...), provided that when you hand
something in to be reviewed for feedback, you get it back within agreed
deadlines, etc., etc., etc., then your estimate holds. If not, then the
estimate will need to be revised.
Anything else you can think of can come under this "CYA" Proviso. In site of
this, things WILL creep up once in a while, but at least you protect
yourself a little. And you will come across as a real professional...
Hope this helps.
At 03:11 PM 2/11/99 -0600, you wrote:
>In early December, a company approached me asking for some freelance
>RoboHelp work. (This was the result of networking; a friend works at
>the company and recommended me to them.) I met with them, they
>described the work, and they asked me for a quote. They also said
>that they were on a very tight time frame, since the product had to be
>released on January 1.
>I told them that my hours were limited (I'm working full-time) but
>that I thought I could complete the job in the hours available,
>especially since things were slow in December. I did up a quote based
>on an hourly rate, and made estimates for numbers of hours that the
>component tasks would take.
>Around mid-December, after not hearing from them for a week and a
>half, I was informed that the schedule had slipped, and would
>mid-January be all right for me to start. That timing was much less
>convenient, but I didn't want to back down at that point.
>For three weeks I pretty much ended up working 70-hour weeks. The
>embarrassing part for me was that I had totally mis-estimated the
>amount of time the project would take. I had made certain assumptions
>about the way the help files were structured (I'd only seen the
>compiled files, not the source) that turned out to be totally wrong,
>with the result that things took much longer.
>The good thing is that the company was very understanding about the
>increase in hours (about double the original estimate). They've also
>been asking me to do a bit here and a bit there that weren't in the
>original quote, and they understand that the clock is running when I
>do those tasks.
>Things are winding down now, and I'll probably do the final compile
>this weekend. (This'll be the third final compile, but never mind
>that.) I've been reminded that working with RoboHelp isn't as easy as
>working with Word, and that everything in a project takes longer than
>it really ought to. But this is the first freelance project I've ever
>obtained and completed on my own, and I'm feeling pretty pleased with
>the whole thing now that it's almost done. And the money will be
Fabien Vais - Documentation Analyst
Technical Writing, Technical Translation/Globalization, Editing, Publishing,
e-mail: phantoms -at- total -dot- net
Mailing address: 38 Elderidge, Montreal, Quebec, H9A 2P4
Phone/Fax: (514) 685-4752