The CIDM Project Estimating Survey: Estimating and Tracking Documentation Projects

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April 2004

The CIDM Project Estimating Survey: Estimating and Tracking Documentation Projects

CIDMIconNewsletter Bill Hackos, Vice President, Comtech Services, Inc.

In December 2003 and January 2004, CIDM asked information developers how they estimate and track their projects. Information developers divide the process into three parts: scoping, estimating, and tracking.


Scoping is the process of determining the size of a documentation effort. About 50 percent of the respondents made use of information about the number and complexity of features to document or the number of user tasks to document. About 25 percent of respondents don’t look at the details of features or user tasks but compare the project to completed projects as a whole. The output of the scoping process is a determination of the number of information development units that must be completed. For many these units are pages, but they may be topics, modules, or other units.


Estimating is the process of estimating the resources needed to complete the job. How many person hours will it take? We found that 75 percent of respondents keep historical metrics based on their project histories. The most common metric reported was hours per milestone, with 69 percent. We found that 57 percent were using hours per page. This last result implies that paper and PDF are still important in documentation. Many organizations use multiple metrics. That explains why the numbers add up to more than 100 percent.


Tracking is the process of recording the actual resources required to complete a milestone or a project. We found that 72 percent of respondents track resource use, usually hours, for their projects. Fifty-two percent of respondents keep a formal history of past projects to use for estimating new projects.

Organizations that do a good job of scoping, estimating, and tracking their documentation projects are much more likely to participate in the survey. They find out about the survey because they are interested in management, and they are more interested in the survey if they are already doing good management. The survey is strongly self-selected. Nevertheless, we were encouraged by the large numbers of organizations using techniques described in JoAnn Hackos’s book, Managing Your Documentation Projects.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents do outsourcing, but only 12 percent are involved with outsourcing offshore. About half of those doing outsourcing ask the contractor to do project estimates. Generally, those who hire contracting agencies that have their own management require estimates for each project, while those who hire individual contractors pay by time and materials.

As information development organizations get squeezed in the outsourcing trend, they’re under pressure to become as efficient as possible. Many are realizing that good project management is crucial to the efficient development of technical information.

The CIDM conducts surveys occasionally to keep up with industry trends. The results of our surveys are fully reported to CIDM members as well as to participants in the surveys. If you would like to take part in future surveys, contact us about becoming a CIDM member, or go to our website at and subscribe to our free CIDM management e-newsletter, where invitations will be posted. CIDMIconNewsletter

Bill Hackos
Vice President
Comtech Services, Inc.

Dr. Hackos has worked with companies in the United States and Europe, helping them solve their publications management problems. He has been heavily involved in many benchmarking projects related to publications management. Dr. Hackos has also helped in the design of graphic user interfaces that are easy to learn and to use. With 30 years’ experience in the computer industry, Dr. Hackos understands how to increase the usability of products.