Electric Book Works Modern publishing for impact organisations

How we plan and cost publishing projects

Over many years and many projects, we’ve developed a process for planning and costing our work. It’s firm enough to rely on, and flexible enough to work across a wide variety of projects. A standard approach helps us draw on past experience, avoid skipping important steps, and ensure clarity and shared expectations with team members and clients.

Our approach also helps our clients trust us as their publishing partner, rather than a service provider completing their to-do list. We take this partnership very seriously.

Imagine you’re our client. You have a pretty good idea of what you want, and you’ve come to us to figure out how to make it real, and what it’ll cost.

Our first step is to figure out, with you, if we’re right for your project. We both need to be confident that EBW can provide what you need. We’ll often have a quick video call to meet and chat briefly about the project. At this stage, if we’re not the team for this, we may be able to suggest a different route. Otherwise, we can move on to our first paid engagement.

Our projects then follow four phases, which are each costed separately, in turn, as each phase is completed. Each phase determines the cost of the next phase.

The first we call scoping: an opportunity for us to define the underlying aims, measures of success, strategy and deliverables you have in mind for the project. This includes a meeting, for which we have a simple methodology, and our write-up afterwards. There is a small cost for this scoping work. We can then each decide whether to proceed to the next phase together, and what that next phase will cost.

The next phase is planning, where we spend time working out, with you, the specifics of a written project-implementation plan, including roles, timelines, technology, and broad briefs to team members like designers and developers. Often we’ll decide, with you, to plan for a first round of work, to lay foundations, knowing we’ll be planning a second round later. For example, if your project involves developing an online library over several years, we might only plan an initial piece of research, design and prototyping.

We’ll create a detailed project-plan document for you. The planning phase usually includes a cost estimate for the next phase, which is the hands-on implementation of the project plan.

Once you and we are happy with the project plan, we can choose to proceed to implementation.

Finally, we may work with you on the ongoing maintenance of the project. For instance, this might involve adding more content to your library, providing support to your users, or simply hosting your website.

If you’d like to know more details, keep reading.

The phases in detail

Let’s explore each of those phases in much more detail.

1. Exploring the opportunity

When we start talking, you and we are trying to figure out if we should work together. We might call this relationship building, sales, discovery, business development, diagnosis, or a ‘chat over coffee’. For us, it’s the work of finding opportunities to work with clients. It’s an investment we make that has a direct cost and opportunity cost, so we make it carefully.

Practically speaking, it might include exchanging emails, brief meetings (if the opportunity is significant), and writing brief proposals. The aim of this process is to help you build trust in us. Figuratively and literally, we want to be sitting on the same side of the table, looking at a problem together, and not facing off in a negotiation, which is how these conversations often start. You need to trust that we do the best work, and that we genuinely have your best interests at heart.

It is very important to avoid guessing at total project costs at this point, except for very rough, indicative costs of other (even hypothetical) projects of a similar nature. The only exceptions are for very simple, small projects for returning clients, where briefs exist from previous projects.

It is very important that we understand your degree of seriousness when exploring an opportunity. You might be doing some early-stage, non-critical thinking work. Or you might be in desperate need of an urgent fix to a major headache. If your need is not critical, you are unlikely to contract us now. That’s absolutely fine: we’re glad to have met you, and hope we meet again soon when you’re ready to start.

We won’t pretend that we can, or should, make you think your need is more critical than it is. You should always be wary of service providers who try to convince you that you need them urgently. We can only help you put words and plans to a need that already exists.

2. Scoping / Evaluation / Discovery / Diagnosis

The aim of a scoping meeting is for you and us to agree on what we’re creating together, why we’re creating it, and how we’ll measure success. We keep it simple.

The extent of this phase can vary a lot depending on the project. It might take a video call and a couple of hours to write up a project description. Or it might take a several-hour workshop or a series of meetings with your teams.

Either way, the output is a written document. We usually start with this table mapping your organisation’s needs to our deliverables.

Needs Impact measures Your strategy People Deliverables
What are the organisation’s underlying needs? What concrete, quantified value will this project realise? Add a current benchmark to measure project success. What is your approach to meet this need? That is, how will the project meet the need? Who’s critically involved? What concrete deliverables will help realise that strategy?

Our work will be the deliverable, and we can only do that well if we understand why we’re doing the work. Then the many decisions we make as we work will be in line with your bigger picture.

Needs are the underlying reasons you’ve asked for our help. E.g. ‘Meet our funder’s reporting requirements’, ‘Sell more copies’, ‘Reduce production costs’, ‘Faster time to market.’

Impact measures are concrete metrics for measuring those needs and whether they’re successfully met. They should include a current measure as a benchmark to compare with later. E.g. ‘Reduce time to market from 4 to 2 months,’ or simply ‘Publish one novel this year.’

Strategy is the approach that you’re using to achieve the measures. E.g. ‘Use a digital-first workflow,’ ‘Create a professional look and feel’, ‘Train staff in digital production’, or ‘Automate 90% of typesetting’. We can help identify an appropriate strategy that our work will support, if you own and believe in the strategy yourself already, whether or not we are part of executing on it.

Critical people are the individuals involved in making decisions. The success of any project depends on having the right decision makers committed from the beginning.

Deliverables are the concrete products and services that EBW will create and provide during the project in order for you to be able to execute on your strategy. E.g. ‘Produce a website and print edition,’ ‘Run a training workshop for editors,’ ‘Design a new series cover design,’ ‘Create marketing materials.’

Note that needs, impact measures and strategy are yours, not ours. Your team should own and buy into them as your own. Some teams already know these things, and we’re just writing them down. In our experience, most teams working on a new project haven’t fully developed these things clearly. Then our job is to help you uncover them. We can only do great work if we and you both clearly understand your needs, impact measures and strategy.

We write up this impact map and send it to you for review, along with quotes for next steps. The next steps can only go ahead once you’ve signed off on the scoping document.

3. Planning / Briefing / Specification / Solution Design

This is where we turn your strategy and our deliverables into written plans, briefs and specifications for the people who’ll execute the project. Depending on the project, this might take anything from a couple of hours writing briefs for designers to multi-day workshops and the development of a many-paged planning document.

The outcome is a written brief for all team members, including responsibilities for your team members. It should describe the why, what, when and how of the deliverables. The project plan will be a living document: we will add to and develop it during the implementation phase.

The plan is usually accompanied by quotes for the next phase: implementation. If you have an overall budget in place for the entire project, we’ll take that into account as we plan together.

You’ll get to review and sign off on the planning document before you decide whether to give us the green light on the next phase.

4. Build / Implementation / Execution / Delivery

Finally, we can execute on the project plan. In order to ship on time, on budget, and to the specs that we envisaged, we’ll focus on achieving the plans we agreed on, and to measure our progress against those plans.

Inevitably, new ideas and extra work will arise during implementation. As they do, we’ll add them to the written project plan, adjust timeframes and processes accordingly, and provide cost estimates for the extra work.

5. Evaluation

The phases form a cycle, and here we return to the beginning after implementation to review how things have gone, and to decide what might happen next.

After delivering a project, it’s important that we know how it went for you, and what impact it has had on your organisation. Did it provide the measurable impact we wrote into the scoping document? If not, why not? What should we keep doing, and what should we do differently next time?

6. Maintenance / Support

Publishing projects need care and tending. We’ll likely continue to collaborate with you as we support your team, users, content and technology. We can cost for this on an ad hoc or scheduled basis.

Find out more

Get in touch any time to find out more, or to talk about your project. You’ll find our team and their details on our About page.

Arthur Attwell last updated 29 January 2020