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How to estimate software development time?

Do you have an idea in mind and wondering how long does it take to develop a custom software? Find all the answers in this article.

Custom software development is when specific software is tailor-made to fit business’ unique requirements. So, the question “How long does it take to build a custom software” has no direct and instant answers. It’s always an estimate - an estimate that we provide to our clients keeping a lot of factors in mind. Read the article to know what are the factors that one needs to consider to provide an accurate time estimate for your custom software and how long a particular stage of software development can stretch.

How long will it take to build my custom software application? This is a common question and we often answer it by saying - Oh! It depends on quite a few factors and first, we need to know about them for your particular project.

There is an ongoing discussion on whether custom software development is equivalent to building a house or not. This metaphor makes sense on the surface but if you dig deep, this loses momentum.

With a house, the scope doesn’t change according to changing requirements, sudden complexities in development don’t creep up and there is no need for testing every part of the house. So, no software development is not exactly similar to building a house! 

But, before starting any software development projects, it is necessary to assess the time and effort that the software project deserves. The cost also depends on the amount of time the software takes to develop. But estimation is not that easy. No two projects are the same. So, no two projects take the same development time.

“It sounds good” - this is what a client said after giving an ear to what we decided in terms of design and process flow. We were ecstatic! But, when we came around and showed him the designs and flow, he was extremely unhappy with it. Where did we go wrong? Assuming that he understood everything verbally and not writing everything down was our biggest mistake!

Software development is challenging! More than often estimates fail and costs overrun.

What difficulties can put software development estimates at risk? We’ll list some factors that make software development time estimation challenging for the software development company.

(1) Constant changing business requirements make it really difficult to stick to the estimates. This is why the “Business Requirement Document” should be your holy grail. Anything that marginally deviates from the requirements and needs re-development will need additional time to develop.

(2) The time associated with R&D is sometimes not taken into consideration while providing a mockup or it takes more time than what was estimated. A way to avoid this is to carry a basic RnD to figure out how long the actual RnD might take.

(3) Designers and developers availability is also a major reason for project delays. The software development company that you hire might have a crisis situation and run out of software developers or they might be at capacity. Expect a project delay in such cases.

(4) Not testing the software from Day 1 largely attributes to software project delays. The bugs that are caused after a finished product is delivered will take too long to fix and will be complicated too. Thus, the time estimate won’t match with the initial one.

Lastly, keep a buffer based on past experiences, employee skill set and project dependencies. This will help you cope with some part of the overflowing time estimate and buy the team extra time.

We have divided the time-estimation process for custom software development into 4 parts. We are proud of the fact that Binaryfolks has been very successful in adhering to time estimates and has never faltered on what we promised. Take a look at the software development timeline estimation process below : 

1- Business requirement discussion

NOTE: This marks the most critical phase of the time estimation process. Keep in mind, the more fleshed out this stage will be, the more precise the time estimation will be.

Every custom software development is the result of some unique business requirements. Knowing and understanding the complete requirement is a necessity in custom software development, not a luxury - that a company can afford to skip.

How do you ensure that you made the detailed requirement analysis?

[a] After receiving the RFP from the client, go through it and note down each and every logical gap that you see.

[b] Prepare the software flow in your mind and write it down in an agreed format, as detailed and precise as possible. Compare the RFP with the flow and see if some more logical gaps come out.

[c] Meet the client either face to face or over audio/video and discuss the RFP. Ask him all your questions and close any logical gap that you had.

[d] Repeat this process till both the parties are absolutely clear with the requirements. Then draft the final Business requirement document (BRD) and get it approved by the client. Tell him/her very frankly that any extra changes or additions will lead to more expenses, both in terms of budget and time.

This process will avoid questions like - Why you didn’t deliver this feature, we are supposed to have this, na? A focused and detailed BRD acts as an informal contract that you can always go back to in crisis situations like this.

Documenting the requirements also help the software development company assess the timescales and resources needed to complete it. Remember, it's usually much quicker to fix a problem at the analysis stage than it is when the finished software is delivered.

The requirement analysis part of the project takes around 1-4 weeks depending on the scale of the project.

2- Planning and Architecture

Before any coding actually takes place, it is very important to thoroughly plan the software architecture - both for Front-end and Back-end. This will help largely in developer and designer collaboration and ensure that the software is stable and scalable from the very beginning.

Whatever architecture you choose for the software, always keep in mind that the structure of the code must satisfy each and every requirement of the software. Choose software architecture keeping flexibility, scalability, feasibility, reusability, and security in mind.

Planning and architecture generally comprise of the stack selection, database selection, class diagram, ERD, third-party libraries, APIs, etc. The deployment architecture needs to be kept in mind too.

Also, if your software project is to be divided into milestones, that flow needs to be completed in this phase too.

Depending on the size and complexity of the application, planning, and architecture takes about 1-2 weeks.

3- Design & Development

Now that your developers and designers are aware of the requirements and the architecture, adding flesh to the skeleton is the next job. This is the longest and the most time-consuming part of software development.

Design should be modern, intuitive and user-friendly. Following the milestones, the development parts need to be broken into smaller chunks so that the client can preview what has been done during the process. This is crucial as the client will be involved throughout the process and your developers will not have any last minute surprises once the product has been developed.

Designing and development takes about 2-3 months for small scale projects and 4-6 months for medium scale projects and can take up to a year for large scale projects..


4 -Testing

All the projects must undergo end to end testing and user acceptance testing. Cross-browser testing is also something that must be kept in mind. If the application has many users logging in and using the system simultaneously, load and performance testing must be considered.

QA needs to be involved from the very beginning. This is because when QA is involved since the beginning, the no. of unexpected bugs are lower and are identified sooner. This means a lower impact on risk, cost, and timelines.

Depending on the size of the application and on the extent of testing required, it might take 2-4 weeks to run complete tests.

-:: Summing it up::-

How much time software will take to be built depends on the size of the software and what all functionality and features it will incorporate. The no. of features pages, level of UI, Users & Accounts integration, dates and location integration, CMS, social media integration, billing and eCommerce, analytics, External APIs and Integrations and finally security - everything will affect the timeline estimation. 

For a custom software development company, it is advisable to take a look at the past experience and historical data for a similar kind of project. See how it did w.r.t time estimation. Keep that in mind. Ask a lot of questions. Make sure that you are 100% sure of the requirements and project flow. Document everything. Keep a buffer in hand.

Keep the estimate realistic. Understand that your designers and developers have two hands each. Prioritize activities and tasks. Communicate well. 

Looking to develop something? Have an idea in mind? We have some time. Talk to us over a free consultation and we will help you out.


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