B. Developing a Publications Department


One of the more difficult tasks facing any publications department is coming up with accurate and realistic schedules, and modifying them while the project is underway. This section provides some basic information about schedule estimates and contingencies, but it is by no means exhaustive. For a list of books that deal specifically with managing documentation projects, see the section "Project Management" in Appendix A.

Estimating Task Times

Table B-2 shows a rough formula for calculating the hours needed for documentation tasks. [4] Keep in mind that these are estimates only and that they may vary depending upon the nature of the documentation (for example, very technical documentation is usually more time-consuming to write and edit than overview information) and outside factors such as poor source material or limited availability of subject matter experts.

    Table B-2 Productivity Formulas

Activity                   Formula for Calculating Hours
Writing new text           3 - 5 hours per page
Revising existing text     1 - 3 hours per page
Editing                    6 - 8 pages per hour
Indexing                   5 pages per hour
Production preparation     5 percent of all other activities
Project management         10 - 15 percent of all other activities

You may want to consider setting up a system to track the amount of time your staff members spend on each project, which you can use to more accurately predict the amount of time needed for future projects.

Developing a Project Schedule

When developing the schedule, tie your deliverables to project milestones rather than calendar dates. Estimate the time before or after a milestone at which you expect to deliver the component (for example, "The first draft of the documentation will be completed two weeks after the alpha version of the software is delivered to Product Test"). That way, you can more easily adjust your documentation schedule to match the progress of the project. Be realistic in your own assessment of actual progress in other departments, such as product development and testing.

Table B-3 shows a typical publications project schedule.

    Table B-3 Sample Publications Schedule

Milestone                              Date Information
Engineering specification              Date from engineering
Documentation plan                     Start and end dates
Alpha software delivery                Due date
First draft                            Due date
Technical review                       Start and end dates
Developmental edit                     Same start and end dates as technical review
Usability test of draft                Same start and end dates as technical review
Index development                      Same start and end dates as technical review
User interface freeze                  Date from engineering
Illustrations complete                 Due date
Feature/function freeze                Date from engineering
Second draft                           Due date
Copy edit                              Start and end dates
Validity testing                       Same start and end dates as copy edit
Final draft                            Due date
Proofread                              Start and end dates
Final draft to production (hard-copy   Due date
and on-line versions)                                                                


Be sure to keep track of changes in delivery dates, and let other departments involved in the project know if a date is going to slip. Setting expectations up front is the best way to establish credibility (and to call attention to late deliverables on which your own deliverables depend).