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Estimating Hardcopy Documentation and Online Help for XXXX Pilot Projects

Updated on February 1, 2015

The following estimate for the documentation effort of the Pilot Project (XXXX) is based on a documentation estimation formula created for and used in the Technical Communication Industry. Note this estimate does not take into the account product functionality not developed on schedule, or any other possible delays that are often encountered in the software development life cycle.


The following estimate is based on assumptions for the documentation and support services needed for this project. There are two parts to what Technical Communication will produce/provide for the project team. Part I consists of the hardcopy documentation effort. Part II consists of the online help system development effort. Part III consists of the Technical Communication (Tech Comm) services that facilitate team communication, coach and mentor on established software development processes and provide additional supporting communication vehicles such as diagrams and charts.

These estimates are based on the High Level Requirements Document Version, written by the Project XXXX Business Analyst.

Part I - Hardcopy Documentation

  • 1 User Guide - 200 pages
  • 1 set of Release Notes - 5 pages

Hardcopy Documentation Services

The following services are provided by Tech Comm in order to create the hardcopy documentation:

  • Increase product knowledge (become familiar with current products/processes that are dependent on or affect the new project).
  • Attend document review sessions for product documentation Software Development Plan (SDP, etc.) and technical documentation (user guide and release notes).
  • Attend project status/user/design meetings; interview Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for technical content.
  • Facilitate communication between team members.
  • Ensure the user's perspective is upheld in all documentation.

Estimate for Hardcopy Documentation Work Effort

1 - To Research and Write the User Guide and Release Notes

Initial Estimate for XXXX supporting documentation is 200 pages:

  • To research and write - 200 pages @ 5 hrs./page = 1,000 hrs.

Total time needed to research and write the documentation from scratch = 1,000 hrs.

2 - To Edit the User Guide and Release Notes

Tech Comm will be editing 200 pages @ 8 pages/hr. There are three edits required. The Developmental Edit (performed after the first draft), the Copy Edit (performed after the second draft), and the Proofreading Edit (final review performed prior to production).

  • To edit – 200 pages @ 8 pages/hr. = 25 hrs. x 3 edits = 75 hrs.

Total time needed to edit documentation = 75 hrs.

TOTAL FOR STEPS 1-2 = 1,075 HRS.

3 - To Index the User Guide

Tech Comm will index 200 pages @ 5 pages/hr.

  • To index and organize – 200 pages @ 5 pages/hr. = 40 hrs.

Total time needed to index the documentation = 40 hrs.

TOTAL FOR STEPS 1-3 = 1,115 HRS.

4 – To Produce the User Guide and Release Notes

Tech Comm will prepare the documentation for production (printing, binding, packaging, and delivery) which is based on 5% of Steps 1-3.

  • Production and distribution – 1,115 hrs. x 5% = 55 hrs.

Total time needed to produce and deliver the documentation = 55 hrs.

TOTAL FOR STEPS 1-4 = 1,170 HRS. to develop the hardcopy documentation.

Hardcopy Formula


Part II - Online Help

Tech Comm will perform the following items to create an online help system that integrates into the XXXX application:

  • Research – interview stakeholder’s/SME’s involved in the project to become familiar with the needs of the end user and the product.
  • Design a help shell to hold content (including a Table of Contents, Index, and Search feature).
  • Write content for the help file (including creating jumps, popups, and links to related information).
  • Review, edit, and revise content based on SME markup.
  • Work with development to create necessary help ID strings to attach the online help system to the XXXX application. Deliver the online help and associated files to development (needed by the XXXX application to launch the help).
  • Test the help file (and all associated internal and external links) with the XXXX application. Work with development to troubleshoot any outstanding help problems (broken links, missing ID files/strings).

Based on the High Level Requirements Document, Version X.X, Tech Comm noted approximately 138 areas/features that will require a topic (a placeholder for information within the online help system). The following estimate is based on an online help development formula used in the Technical Communication Industry. The four hours assigned to each topics is the sum of time needed to develop each topic and includes all of the effort outlined in the six bullet points above:

  • 138 help topics x 4 hrs./topic = 552 hrs. of help development time.

Note that typically, the topics determined from the High Level Requirements Document only constitute about 50% of the total topics needed to create a comprehensive online help system due to user requirements changing throughout the product development lifecycle.

Total time needed to develop the online help system = 552 hrs.

TOTAL FOR PARTS I & II = 1,722 HRS. to develop the hardcopy documentation and online help system.

Part III - To project Manage the Creation of the User Guide, Release Notes, and Online Help System

Tech Comm will assist product management and team members with the review and maintenance of product documentation (SDP, etc.) and communications:

  • Troubleshoot Word Processor issues.
  • Create and maintain project specific templates and style sheets, as needed.
  • Apply styles (defined headings), grammar rules, and format/layout standards (look and feel).
  • Edit project communications and project work products (SDP, etc.).
  • Coach and mentor team members on the development processes; Process Library and work product documentation (SDP, etc.).

Assist Project Management Office with supporting documentation:

  • Create diagrams or other charts and diagrams as needed.
  • Create status report templates or any other templates as needed.
  • Create and edit team communications to help facilitate communication for the success of the project.

Tech Comm will provide project management for the documentation effort (Parts I & II above as well as any other assistance needed by the project team). Documentation project management is 15% of the total for Parts I & II:

  • Documentation Management – 1,722 hrs. x 15% = 258 hrs.

Total time needed to product manage the documentation = 258 hrs.

TOTAL FOR PARTS I, II, & III = 1,980 HRS. to develop the hardcopy documentation, online help and to project manage both documentation efforts.

© 2015 Mark Bush


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    • markbush5150 profile image

      Mark Bush 3 years ago from Tampa, Florida 33609

      I guessed!? Just kidding, totally. The argued standard is 3-5 hours per page for writing a user guide, then up to 9 hours for technical materials. I can say that over the years (on the job experience) the above-estimating process has served me very well - and PMs can understand it. I also designed an accompanying formulated spreadsheet that allows me to track project deliverables and quickly and accurately report at PM meetings - by percentages - to the number. I agree with "level of difficulty." For example - the spreadsheet uses percentages to account for major and minor edits - rewrites versus updates, etc. Here is a really nice guide though that breaks down into detailed levels . . .

    • Carolyn M Fields profile image

      Carolyn Fields 3 years ago from South Dakota, USA

      This is great. I am curious, however. How did you arrive at 5 hours per page for writing? Is that a published industry standard? Are there other standards used by other organizations you've run across?

      Also - for estimating instructional design projects, I found it useful to apply a percentage for "level of difficulty." What about you?