Estimating L&D Project Times

When I was the Director of L&D at The Schwan Food Company, I kept track of the kinds of learning and development projects that my teams worked on. They fell into some pretty consistent buckets of time, effort, and cost. Across different companies and clients, those buckets have remained pretty consistent. It has given me a good set of “rule of thumb” estimates that I thought I would share with others.

Here are the “big buckets” of work that has to be done. For a more fine-grained estimate, check out my previous blog post on Cost Estimates for Learning Design.


Time & Cost Buckets

  • 10 hours – Minor customizations of existing ILT programs (adding a new page or slides, wordsmithing, changing an activity); Adding a post-workshop support component to an existing program; Writing a simple simulation, case study, or learning activity; Minor editing of a scripted facilitator guide
  • 20 hours – Minor program design using existing material; Small one-topic e-learning courses with no programming; Revisions to most ILT programs up to 5 days in length; Writing a single complex simulation
  • 50 hours – Moderate, custom ILT program design using mostly existing material; Programs that require new writing or scripting, including new one-topic e-learning and blended programs; Programs that require significant subject matter expert (SME) input
  • 100 hours – New major ILT programs up to two days or anything that will require a pilot; Anything that will require a scripted facilitator guide; Multi-part e-learning; e-Learning courses with multiple branching simulations
  • 200 hours – New major multi-part programs, especially where multiple SMEs and stakeholders are involved; Moderate programs with translation and localization; Solutions to significant business performance needs
  • 400 hours – Major, organization-wide programs. (Examples: building and implementing a mini-MBA program, implementing an LMS, implementing just the training and organization change portion of an HRIS)


The time estimate includes the L&D staff or department time, but not the time of the sponsor, SMEs, learners, or client-side stakeholders. If I know the requestor or client well, I can bump the estimate up or down, depending on what I know about working with them. Overall, these are the big block estimates, where you don’t know much more detail and have to just toss out a number. They have been pretty accurate over time for me.

This lets me answer a quick request like: “Hey, Steve, our client wants a two-day classroom coaching program, with a set of online practice simulations. What will that take?”

I can respond: “We have a lot already for coaching, so 50 hours for the custom ILT workshop. Multiple e-learning simulations, probably up to 100 hours, with some efficiency likely between the two project parts, because we’re using the same content. Most likely, for the whole request, we’re looking at about a 120-hour project.”

Later, we can dig into details as we scope the project. The initial estimate buckets are a shorthand based on experience that lets me answer simple, high-level requests without digging into analysis. For me, it’s about serving the customer—whether that is my consulting partner, an internal exec, or a client contact. If I can give a good, fast ballpark estimate, then they can answer questions and help the sponsors set realistic expectations. And in the end, that is good for everyone.