Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources: Helpful Resources

In this blog post, I will look into few resources that could help in estimating activity duration in projects, resource cost and effort associated with instructional design projects. The first resource is a blog post by Donald Clark about “Estimating Costs and Time in Instructional Design” the post is available through this link http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/costs.html

This blog post starts with a general description about budgeting for training programs Clark (2010) explained that the budget of training programs will not be complete from the beginning, and it evolves through the ID process as we are evaluating and adjusting the design.  Clark (2010) then provides guidelines of costs associated with ID projects; in addition, he lists average estimated times and associated costs for developing e-learning components. These components include, instructor preparation time, seat time and multimedia development time (Clark, 2010).  Finally, he provides an excel sheet listing the various tasks in the ID project and cost of each resource through two worksheets and worksheet with notes. I believe that this sheet along with the data provided in the blog post could help any instructional designer in understanding budgeting for training programs.

A character juggling schedule, cost and perforamnce

The second resource is an article on “Labor Burden & Profits – Employees Real Cost and How Much you Should Charge” by Diane Gilson. The article is available here http://www.sleeter.com/supplemental/articles/
Labor_Burden_Gilson.pdf

In this article, Gilson (n.d.) explained in details the many aspects that constitute the employees’ salary; when developing a project budget, the instructional designer should carefully calculate the real cost of the hourly rate for resources. The hourly rate includes the normal hourly rate of an employee and the labor burden costs, which is the costs that the employee incur above the hourly rate (Gilson, n.d.). These burden costs could be transportation to/from any location, travel, vacation time during the project, health insurance and other benefits (Gilson, n.d.). The article provides examples and lists many aspects that contribute to the employee’s true hourly rate.

Another resource that I found very helpful is MS Project software that could be used to easily enter each task, its duration and the associated resources. This webpage http://www.microsoft.com/project/en-us/tips-tricks.aspx provides tips and tricks that could help when creating a project schedule. While MS project comes with the fee, I looked into free tools which could be used to estimate costs and durations; this article http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/excel-project-management-tracking-templates/ provides free alternatives to MS project like using Excel sheets to develop cost estimates. The author suggests the use of the templates in Excel which is available through MS Office and is commonly used on various computers. I went to Excel, selected “New” from the menu and then typed project management in the search area; the search resulted in many templates for risk management, communication plans and template for a project cost summery. Additional, I found a template for event management project tracker with ready worksheet to calculate durations and costs; this template could help in calculating time and cost for events associated with trainings. Below is an image form this template.

Event Management Tracker fro MS Excel

Event Management Tracker from MS Excel

References:

Clark, D. (2010). Estimating costs and time in instructional design. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/costs.html

Gilson, D. (n.d). Labor burden & profits – Employees real cost and how much you should charge. Retrieved from

http://www.sleeter.com/supplemental/articles/Labor_Burden_Gilson.pdf

[Untitled image of a character juggling cost, schedule and performance]. Retrieved November 29, 2012 from http://www.platinum-cpd.com/pmforhr.html

Communicating Effectively: Look, Listen, Read

In this blog I will be analyzing information received through three different environments; an email, a voice message and face-to-face message. The message is about the need for a missing report; you could view the module here http://mym.cdn.laureate-media.com/2dett4d/Walden/EDUC/6145/03/mm/aoc/index.html

Two characters communicating through a string

Communication planning is one of the important aspects of an effective project management process (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, & Sutton, 2008). There are three forms of communication, verbal, non-verbal and written; the message conveyed face-to-face relies greatly on the non-verbal cues associated with the message, like the tone, the body language and gestures (Verma, 1996). These non verbal cues are not available through written messages; therefore, written message should be clear, concise and focused (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).

Interpretation

I had similar understanding of the message for email and voice mail message; through both I understood that Jane requires a late report from Mark so she could use it to finish her report on time. My understanding was that Mark is late in submitting his report to Jane. Through the face-to-face message, my understanding shifted to realize that Mark was not late, and Jane just wanted to make sure that she gets the data or report early so she could finish her task on time (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).

Influential Factors

The main problems that affected my understanding of the email were the use of an acronym and the many words which are not related to the main request. Without non verbal cues and with no written words, the message over the phone could be interpreted as an angry request. I believe that the tone of the message contributed to this understanding. With the face-to-face conversation, I was able to gain much more understanding than the written and verbal messages. From looking at the setting and seeing Jane, it appears to me that she requesting this data from a colleague in an amicable way. Tone and body language are important factors that could affect the message (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).

The True Message?

I believe that the message was clearly delivered through the face-to-face interaction. There were no barriers; in addition, the non verbal cues like eye contact, face expression and body language (Nayab, 2011) helped in recognizing the intent of the message, and gave more friendly tone than the other two messages.

Implications

Communication among project teams is crucial to the success of the project. Project managers should not rely on the The Messagedocumented information only; they should follow-up with their teams through regular meetings and progress reports (Portny, 2008) to make sure that the information is transmitted and received accurately. There are many factors that could affect a message transmitted between a sender and a receiver; these factors are the context and the environment in which the message is delivered through (Verma, 1996). Furthermore, culture, personalities and judgment are all factors that could affect the message (Verma, 1996). Project Managers should utilize the various forms of communication to deliver relevant and appropriate messages (Tyson, 2010).  In this module, the most effective message for me was the one delivered face-to-face, but this is not always the case in projects. Teams could be located in different locations and even in the same office there is a need to send informal messages via written communications or emails. Written communication should include a clear purpose with a friendly and respectful tone (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).

Finally, it is recommended that project managers document conversations, verbal agreements and informal massage (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.) to be able to provide any supporting information related to the project.

References

Laureate Education Inc., (Producer). (n.d.). Communicating with stakeholders [Video webcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_1957702_1%26url%3D

Nayab, N. (2011). Comparing various forms of communication. Retrieved from http://www.brighthubpm.com/methods-strategies/79297-comparing-various-forms-of-communication/

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Tyson, B. (2010). How important is communication in project planning. Retrieved from http://www.brighthubpm.com/project-planning/84935-how-important-is-communication-in-project-planning/?cid=parsely_rec

Verma, V. K. (1996). The Human Aspects of Project Management: Human Resources Skills for the Project Manager, Volume Two. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management institute Inc.

[Untitled image of two characters communicating through a string]. Retrieved from http://www.boscoanthony.com/tag/communications/

Learning from a Project “ Post-mortem”

In my work, we plan for numerous events; two years ago I was assigned to plan for an international conference which we anticipated will attract around 700 delegates. I started planning for the project a year before the actual event. This project fills under long-term project definition; it had many details, an initial plan and many modifications and revisions to the plans (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, & Sutton, 2008). I created a planning sheet with responsibilities and roles, schedule and anticipated cost. The event at the end was successful, and I have to say that I was so proud with work done. On the other hand, there were some pitfalls that could have been avoided to make the event even more successful with less stress on me and others involved with the project. The project involved planning, budgeting, booking venues, dealing with many suppliers, dealing with functional departments, like financial and procurement offices, and communicating with many stakeholders. There were many successful outcomes and some challenges that could have been avoided by applying project management processes.

Successes

Many elements contributed to the success of the project; first, I created a responsibility matrix and a schedule. To develop these documents, we started with a kickoff meeting, brainstormed ideas, and provided an orientation to the members about their roles, all described by Greer (2010) as best practices in starting and building project teams. Then we identified the project’s needs and described the objectives (Portny, 2008).

Another successful element was the development of a risk management plan; few months after starting the project, we were told that there is another event sponsored by the government (G20 Summit); and the main venue booked for the conference was taken from us as it was strategic to the government event.  At that time, we had to find another space; luckily we were able to find another venue. For this reason, we had to create a comprehensive risk management plan as we anticipated that this summit will affect our event. Surely, it was helpful to have the risk management plan with strategies to avoid or mitigate these risks, and we prepared a contingency plan to deal with the unknown unknowns (Porteny, 2008).

Challenges

While I started to plan for the event with project management in mind, the team functioned throughout the planning process as a committee. Vijay (1997) explained that teams working as committees may lack the strong leadership and could deliberate more than doing the assigned work. Many of the committee members were familiar with event planning, and there was an assumption that, since it has been done before then we can just do this one again (Portny, 2008). The main difference about this event was the size, thus increased complexity of the tasks. To avoid this problem, there should have been a formal start for the project with authorization from the stakeholders; the project was missing a very important element which is the charter (PMBOK®, 2008). While we had separate sheets and plans, it could have helped to have everything documented in one resource and approved by authorized stakeholders. The project becomes officially authorized when the charter is approved and signed (PMBOK®, 2008).

components of a charterAnother pitfall was failing to involve a key project stakeholder from the beginning of the project (Portny, 2008). Two days before  opening online registration for the conference, after building a registration site through a vendor, I needed to use a bank account to use for the credit card payments. I contacted a financial advisor, and he mentioned that we should have contacted Finance before setting up the account with the vendor as my institution has another vendor for these kinds of transactions. At that time, I realized that we should have involved a financial advisor from the beginning; while what he said sound now like common sense, at that time with the many details and me wearing many hats, I totally overlooked this part. After some discussions with management, we were able to set up the account. Not only that I missed a stakeholder, I believe that this would have been caught in the work break down structure (WBS). WBS are organizational charts to help mapping all activities related to the project (Russell, 2000). In addition, WBS help to divide the project tasks into smaller and manageable deliverables (PMBOK®, 2008).

Over all, the event was successful and attracted the many delegates that we anticipated; the project was done according to schedule, within budget and with high quality. The challenges were all lessons learned for future and similar projects.

References:

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

PMBOK ®Guide (2008).  A guide to the project management body of knowledge. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Russell, L. (2000). Project management for trainers. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Vijay, V. (1997). The human aspects of project management (Vol. 3): Managing the project team. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management institute Inc.

[Untitled image of the components of the charter]. Retrieved November 8, 2012 http://pmpartnergroup.com/?p=227

[Untitled image of risk planning]. Retrieved November from http://www.ileviathan.com/solutions/website-marketing-plan/risk-management

Project Management in Education

The focus of my posts in the coming few weeks will be on project management in education and training. I look forward to reading your comments.