How Long Does It Take To Develop Software?

Custom software can be useful for your business, however it is important to understand how long it takes to develop it. After all, this will affect your budget and goal setting, including your launch date. Your time frame will depend on various factors, from the scope of the project to the resources available to you.

The following details the factors that may contribute to the timeframe of your Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) – which is the process of planning, developing, testing, and deploying your software – as well as how long typical software development should take.

How Long Should It Take To Develop My Custom Software?

Developing fully functional and secure custom software for your business enterprise can be a powerful solution for solving specific problems. However, specific problems require custom solutions, and these solutions can require a lot of time to develop.

There are a variety of factors that can affect the time required for software development.
That said, SDLC models usually group these factors into five to seven different phases. These distinct phases carry different time requirements, but will all affect the development time frame.

The total average time for custom software development is typically between four to twelve months. However, it is important to note that, according to a study by KPMG Information Technology, 85% of software development projects go over schedule.

Time Frames Largely Depend On The Scope Of Work Required

Estimating time frames for custom software development is difficult due to the differing nature of specific projects that have their own particular requirements. These requirements may include building certain functionalities, security features, modules, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), or external libraries.

The integration and implementation with existing software systems – such as legacy systems – can also affect the time frame. Moreover, if QA (Quality Assurance) testers find bugs or software flaws, then remediation could take an extra week or month and further add to the time frame.

Other considerations include the complexity of business logic, migration of database software code, the ability for multiple platform support, whether the coding language is scalable (meaning that the code can be adapted to meet new requirements), and more.

The scale of the project ultimately determines whether a software project can be completed quickly, or whether more time will be required.

Time Frames Are Also Largely Dependent On Whether You Use Internal Resources, A Firm, Or A Freelancer

Time frames for custom software development can also depend on whether a business uses its own staff, or instead uses a software development firm or a freelancer to program the software.

Leveraging your own internal software developers has its advantages because your team likely has a deep understanding of the business requirements and the systems to integrate with.

However, internal staff may already be at capacity maintaining existing systems and may not have the time to develop software, which could include developing modern architectures, complex languages, and aligning with emerging practices.

While freelancers are typically programmers that operate alone or in small teams, a firm will typically employ a well-rounded, highly-trained team of software engineers.

Such a team will usually have engineers that specialize in software development, QA testing, and architectural design, and will consequently understand and implement the phases of the SDLC in the most efficient manner. These factors often result in a more efficient development process and shortened project time frames.

An experienced firm, backed by a team that specializes in custom projects, can handle custom software development. This can greatly cut down on time constraints, overhead costs, and possibly ongoing maintenance fees.

Large-Scale Versus Small-Scale Custom Software Development

Custom software development projects can typically be divided into two different groups: large-scale projects and small-scale projects. Whether your project is large-scale or small-scale will ultimately affect how long it takes to complete.

Large-scale projects will usually be associated with large enterprises in need of a high number of software integrations, which may include a great amount of API programming, migration of database data, and integration or remediation of legacy systems.

General software integrations can link custom software with customer relationship management (CRM) suites, content management system (CMS) applications, business intelligence (BI) suites, accounting software, and more.

Stakeholders play a key role in the requirements and design of custom, large-scale software suites. Stakeholders have authority to request alterations in the design, which may increase the time requirements for the project.

Small-scale projects usually require fewer modules, less API programming, less integration with other systems, and less QA testing. This is due to the simpler nature of a small-scale project.

Security issues and system integration bugs will emerge in small-scale software development, however these issues will typically be less impactful compared to large-scale projects, and therefore will require a shorter time frame for remediation.

The Software Development Life Cycle

The separate and distinct phases of the SDLC require different time frames for completion. There are six phases, which include the planning, design, development, implementation, testing, and production phases.

Each phase carries a very particular function in the building of a software suite, thus it is very important to detail how each phase may have different time requirements for large-scale compared to small-scale projects.

Phase 1: Planning and Requirements

This beginning phase is where stakeholders and project managers detail the specifics of what the software application will do, and what problem the software is solving. This may require extensive planning in the case of large-scale projects, or may be completed quickly for small-scale projects. Expect this phase to take between two and four weeks.

Phase 2: Design and Architecture

This phase of the SDLC is where the blueprint of the software suite is designed, including the architecture of the software, its functionalities, any third-party libraries, and APIs. The module purpose is also defined.

An emphasis is placed on the core features of the software application and how all the elements fit together. The average time frame for this phase is typically two weeks.

Large-scale projects may require more time in this phase, while small-scale projects may require a shorter time period.

Phase 3: Development and Coding

This phase is where software engineers code the application, generally building it from scratch. The design specifications from previous phases guide what needs to be built and how to build it. This phase is therefore the longest phase, typically lasting between three and eight months.

Naturally, the number of application functionalities and modules that are required are directly proportional to the amount of time needed for coding. Thus, it follows that large-scale projects will require more time in this phase than small-scale projects.

Phase 4: Implementation

This phase of the SDLC is where engineers implement and integrate the custom software with existing systems, including legacy systems, and deploy the application in the target environment. This phase should take roughly two to four weeks.

Implementation will be more complex for large-scale projects where the software application will likely need to assimilate with a variety of other software systems (e.g. CRM software, CMS suites, ERP suites, etc.). Small-scale projects will require less implementation work and will thus require less time.

Phase 5: Testing and Maintenance

This phase is where QA and security engineers test the software for bugs, issues, flaws, and integration misconfigurations. It generally takes three to six weeks. Large-scale projects typically require more implementation work with a variety of corporate systems, which creates a larger likelihood that bugs and flaws will occur.

Any technical issues will require remediation, which may require more time depending on the model chosen. Small-scale projects will usually have fewer issues associated with business system integration, but may still require additional time to resolve a number of technical bugs or issues.

It should be noted that when using the Agile methodology, testing is completed during the sprint in which development is completed. Using this methodology will allow developing and testing to be completed simultaneously instead of in sequence.

Phase 6: Production

This phase of the SDLC is where the project team deploys the software package to the end user. It may also include future maintenance, security patches, etc.

This phase may be considered a continuous process depending on the development model being used. In the Waterfall model, the production phase is the final stage. In the Agile model, the six phases are part of an iteration that repeats in cycles.

The time frame for this phase can therefore vary from as little as three weeks, to a much more extensive period of time. On average, expect the production phase to take three weeks or more. Good continuous integration (CI) practices will reduce the time to actually push the code into production.

There Are Different Approaches to Building Software

Like any proprietary software, the methodology that is used in the Software Development Life Cycle will affect the amount of time required to develop the software product.

Waterfall, Agile, and DevOps (considered a successor of the Agile approach) approaches are the most widely used SDLC methodologies today. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, while requiring different time commitments for custom application development.

Time Frame Of The Waterfall Software Development Life Cycle

There are six primary steps in the Waterfall model: requirement gathering, analysis, design, coding, testing, and deployment. On average, these steps should take a total of nine weeks to complete. The benefits of using a Waterfall methodology include:

  • Avoid writing faulty code: The analysis and design stages are meant to allow developers to detect errors before they get to the coding stage.

  • Milestones are clearly defined: As such, it's easier for developers to work towards specific goals and measure their progress.

  • New developers can join with ease: New developers can be added to the team at any stage since all of the system's requirements will be detailed in the requirements document.

  • The project is easier to budget: Because all the detailed requirements are defined in the initial stage, estimating the project's budget can be more accurate. However, for large-scale projects the planning and estimating process can take much longer. Any deviations from the original plan will certainly cause rework, delays and overruns.

Time Frame Of The Agile Software Development Life Cycle

In contrast to the Waterfall methodology, the Agile methodology uses iterative, modular development sprints. Each sprint involves both development and testing and usually takes two weeks each.

Additionally, there are multiple software development cycles instead of just one. These cycles, or “sprints,” consist of planning, development, feedback, and production stages. The main priorities are identified in the initial stage.

After those are developed, you can launch the app. Once the app is launched, development for the app will likely continue. The initial launch will be shorter, but long-term development can take additional time as more features are added. The biggest advantage of the Agile methodology is that the customer gets exactly what they want and can stop development at any time once they are satisfied with the features.

There are numerous advantages to using an Agile methodology, such as:

  • Quicker launch time: Focus is directed to features and functionality that are prioritized in the initial stage. Once those are developed, you can launch the app despite it not being completed.

  • Less financial risk: The Agile method allows developers to test the software with the end user regularly. The investment is incremental, and therefore reduces the financial risk as developers can gauge if the software is popular or not, and terminate the project before the entire budget is used.

  • Lower upfront costs: Since you are only developing features and functions that you've prioritized for the app ahead of time, you won't need as big of a budget upfront as what you would need to complete the entire app in one development cycle.

  • Fewer delays: Because software is developed and tested simultaneously during each sprint, you are less likely to run into significant errors that may delay your launch towards the end of development.

  • Better meet customer needs: Since development is ongoing, the development team can collect customer feedback and use it to improve the app's development, whether it's by fixing issues or adding new features or functionality.

Time Frame Of The DevOps Software Development Life Cycle

DevOps incorporates iterative development with QA testing and operations administration tasks, along with concepts such as continuous delivery. All of the above processes associated with DevOps make development times noticeably quicker.

Utilizing this software development model can shorten the development time frame and the extent of remediation for software bugs. However, switching to a DevOps SDLC can take a lot of time and money initially, not to mention it may even require a significant cultural shift.

The following are some of the advantages to using a DevOps methodology:

Improved collaboration: Unlike other methodologies, the operations and development teams work together, resulting in fewer issues caused by miscommunication.

The use of automation: Automation is an essential element of DevOps and allows the sprints to be completed in a shorter period.

Quicker updates: Because teams work closely together, you can release new updates much quicker.

Faster Development Is Not Always Better

When determining the time frame for your software project, it’s crucial that you understand that faster doesn’t necessarily mean better. For example, when the coding language is discussed, you’ll need to consider speed versus scalability and performance.

While a scripting language may be faster to develop than a true object-oriented language, such as C# or Java, the enterprise solution likely needs a more robust development language to meet the long-term business objectives.

The following are some of the factors that can affect your development timeline.

  • Integration with Existing Systems
    When it comes to the time frame required for custom application development, system integration is one of the most important factors. Businesses in need of custom software will usually be integrating the new software suite with existing software systems.

    System integration can generally be done in a matter of weeks, but this also depends on the number of existing systems your new software needs to be integrated with.

    Corporations may only require a small number of software integrations with an existing system, which requires less effort, time, and overhead costs compared with integrating large-scale projects with a large amount of enterprise software suites.

  • Custom Software and Small Functionality Upgrades for Websites
    Custom software packages that are to be integrated with – or deployed on – websites may require an update to the existing web server infrastructure.

    However, deploying custom website software on a business website will typically only require small changes. Smaller changes allow for seamless integration and deployment. As such, web apps usually introduce website functionality upgrades that are not major (they do not require a complete site overhaul).

    The main exception to that is security, as new web applications often introduce new security vulnerabilities that must be swiftly dealt with by software engineers.

  • Complete Overhauls of Existing Systems
    There are times where existing systems require a complete overhaul or rewrite. This is typical when a business is using large amounts of legacy software systems.

    According to Forrester’s Business Technographics, 75% of North American and European IT enterprises spend the majority of their budget maintaining legacy systems.

    Overhauling existing systems usually results in the modernization of IT systems, which requires a great amount of time and overhead for upgrades and reintegration of enterprise suites and business systems.

  • Building Entirely New Systems All Together
    Instead of overhauling an existing system, building a new, custom system is often required. This still requires the integration of new, custom software with old, legacy systems, if existing systems will remain in use.

    Another factor to note is whether you’re using SaaS (Software as a Service) and need to integrate your legacy systems with Cloud systems. The time needed for large- or small-scale system building is always directly proportional to the number of features required, and the scope (or scale) of the system.

    Large enterprises usually need large-scale systems that are highly scalable, while smaller businesses may require less scalability and small-scale custom systems.

Familiarize Yourself WIth Custom Software Development Timeline

Custom software development doesn’t have to be a corporate unknown when it comes to cost and time constraints. Many factors affect the overall time required to build custom software, such as the scope, scale, functionality, and system integrations of a large- or small-scale project.

The different phases of the SDLC may require different time frames for completion, depending on the scale of the project. The model used for software development also affects the time frame of the project.

In general, custom software development, backed by a team of software engineers, can range anywhere between four to 12 months. Remember to plan ahead, as software development projects often run over schedule!

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