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Education services shouldn’t hire anyone without a staffing model

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on October 27, 2020

You cannot hire people onto your education services team because you are busy. This is a bad idea. It means you have no staffing model, no plan, and no means for building a forecast that drives results. You certainly won’t be able to explain why the headcount on your team is too high and how it got there. I want you to change how you hire, using a staffing model, based on forecasted work volume (a.k.a. value delivered).

Here’s how that might work.

Other departments have staffing models

Let’s look at four examples of other departments that have staffing models and how they work. 

How to hire in sales: Good sales organizations hiring sales people based on the number of leads that come through the sales team. The more leads a company gets, the more sales people are needed to deal with those leads. Different sales models have different numbers, but it is still a question how many leads can one salesperson handle and how many leads do we expect to have over the next month, quarter, or fiscal year. 

In a software company with a product-led growth strategy, a four and five-figure deal size, and an inbound sales team, sales people can handle a high number of leads. In a software company with a sales-led growth strategy, a complex product, and a six or seven figure deal size, sales people handle far fewer leads.  

The key to creating a staffing model is to know how many leads a sales person can successfully deal with and forecast lead volumes out over the year. As lead volume increases, so does hiring...but hiring only happens ahead of predictable increases in lead flow. If lead flow slows in the middle of a hiring cycle, smart companies hold off on hiring. 

How to hire in support: Support organizations use ticket volumes and time metrics like time to resolution. Like sales, this model is simple. If a support team gets 100 tickets per day and a support engineer can handle 10 tickets per day, you need 10 people on the team. You will not hire another support engineer until you approach 110 tickets per day.

How to hire in customer success: Customer success more likely uses a ratio method of the number of customers per customer success manager. A customer success manager, let’s say, can handle 10 customers (in a high-touch model). You would plan to hire a customer success manager for every 10 new customers. Although that is a ratio method, you still need to forecast (or get the forecast from the sales team) the number of new customers expected to close and when. 

How to hire for premium, paid services (support, customer success, technical account manager) roles: I know one software company with a technical account manager (TAM) role. It is a premium offering. It costs $77,500 per year. One of the main services a customer gets is one business day of service per week (eight hours equivalent per week). Knowing that this TAM program offers one business day of service per week, we can easily create a staffing model. 

We just need to answer the question, how many customers can one TAM handle? 

Since there are five business days per week, the maximum number of customers one TAM can handle is five. Well, maybe you don’t want to max that person out at five customers. You need to factor in time a TAM will spend on other activities, including prep time, follow up time, internal meetings, and PTO. So, you might say one TAM can handle 3 customers.

Now all you have to do is forecast how many new TAM customers will sign up and when they will sign up. 

Those are just four examples that lead us to ask ourselves, “How can we apply these methods to our customer education teams?”  

A predictable reason to hire: Work volume

Before we answer that question, let’s go back to the original problem posed at the beginning of this article, we cannot hire because we are busy. What does busy mean? How busy is busy enough to hire? Answers to these questions are unpredictable and vague at best. If there is one lesson from the above four examples, it is that they have a predictable reason for making hiring decisions. 

For sales, that predictable reason is lead volume and the number of leads a sales person can handle.

For support, that predictable reason is ticket volume and the number of tickets a support engineer can handle. 

For customer success, that predictable reason is customer volume and the number of customers a customer success manager can handle. 

You get the idea. 

What is the predictable reason for a customer education team? 

That depends on the role. 

The two main roles in customer education

There are two main roles in customer education. 

  1. Course developer: This role makes the content (eLearning and live content). 
  2. Instructor: This role delivers live training content. 

These two roles deal with the work volumes and produce all the value, so it’s worth our time to define what the work volumes are, so we can forecast what volumes we will produce and when we need to produce them. 

Staffing model: Match the volume to what the role can deliver

These are the two primarily work volume drivers:

  1. Course development: How much new course content you are expecting to create. 
  2. Course delivery: How many live courses you forecast to deliver over time.  

Here’s how you use this. 

You must be able to make a forecast for how much of either of these you plan to deliver throughout the year. For example, your 2021 forecast might be that you will create 12 hours of new courses content. This might be because there are product functions (or user roles) for which you have not yet built any training, or the product team is planning to launch new features that need training. 

In your forecast, you will break up that 12 hours of content and estimate how you might deliver that over time. To keep things simple, you might say you will deliver one hour per month of new content for each of the 12 months of the upcoming fiscal year.

Then you match this up with the course developer role and estimate how much content a course developer can deliver. Data from the Association of Talent Development  (ATD) shows that you can estimate how many hours of work it takes to develop one hour of training content. This number varies based on the complexity and quality of the course content, but for purposes of building a model, you should start with a ratio of 50 to 1. This means it takes 50 hours of work to produce one hour of course content. 

Don’t complicate this too much...especially in the context of building your staffing model. For purposes of modeling, a single one hour course should be treated the same as four, 15 minute courses. Remember, you are building a staffing model that estimates what you can do. 

It won’t be perfect. And that’s OK. 

If a course developer spends 50 hours of work to produce one hour of training content, and there are 160 hours of work time in a month (40 hours per week x four weeks per month) that means (rounding off) that one course developer can produce three hours of course content per month. 

If you are forecasting to build 12 hours of new course content this year, you could get that all done, with one full time course developer, in four months. If your forecast is to produce one hour per month, you don’t really need a full time course developer. 


You might get by with finding someone internally to spend 10 to 20 hours per week developing your first few hours of course content. 

See how that works? 

Here’s what you do:

Step 1: Forecast the number of hours of course content you plan to deliver, by month, for the next 12 months.

Step 2: Use the 50:1 ratio to determine how many course developers you will need.

Step 3: Put these in a spreadsheet and map it out, by month.

That’s your forecast.

You can apply a similar approach with instructors. 

Step 1: How many courses do you plan to deliver each month for the next 12 months.

Step 2: How many courses can one instructor deliver at a time, by month.

Step 3: Put that in a spreadsheet and map it out, by month.

Now you have a staffing model for your two primary value producing customer education roles. 

CEOs, COOs & CFOs rejoice

We are only scratching the surface here. But if you can create a staffing model and go to your executive team with a forecast that shows your hiring plans based on value you plan to deliver (work volume), you will not only impress your executive team, but your exec team will turn to your peer leaders in other groups and say to them, “Where’s your staffing model?”

We are running a webinar on this

On Wednesday, November 18, we are running a webinar to walk you through how to create your 20201 education services plan. This will be a hands-on webinar. By hands-on, I mean you are going to start on your plan during the webinar. Bring a pencil. Then, we'll give you a template spreadsheet you can use to build your forecast. If you want to WOW your management team, this is it. 

Click below and register. Don't miss this, if you want to get that seat at the table.


Originally published Oct 27, 2020 7:28:46 PM, updated Oct 27, 2020