Developing new software is a complicated and time-consuming process. You will need to set realistic development expectations for your software project before you start building it. Many factors go into software development time estimation, including the type of software, the size of the team, and more. A few crucial guidelines are below to help you estimate software development times with as much accuracy as possible.
The Importance Of Accurate Time Estimation & Monitoring
The software development process is largely unpredictable and can be challenging to quantify. Establish a realistic software development schedule that your team can follow so you know how long it will take for the project to be completed. In addition to accurate software development time estimation, carefully monitor the project and team to ensure that you're on track to meet all of your deadlines. If you don't accurately estimate the project's timeline or closely monitor your project's schedule, it could result in the following problems:
- The project could exceed your budget: If you miss your deadlines, you could exceed your budget by paying your team to work longer than expected to complete development.
- You could alienate your customers: Customers who expect your project to launch by a certain date will lose trust in your company every time that date is pushed back.
- You could hurt team morale: Teams that don't have a clear timeline or milestones might get demotivated and stop working toward their goals.
- You could lose funding: Many companies can only fund projects with a software development plan that's accurate and manageable. Additionally, clients are less likely to stay on your software project if they're not confident that you will complete development.
- It could result in software quality issues: If your team is working twice as hard to meet unrealistic deadlines, the risk of mistakes goes up, resulting in software quality issues.
Is A Perfect Estimation Possible?
Many development teams have a software time estimation formula that they rely on to create an accurate software project timeline. However, many factors are involved in the software development process, and these formulas can only be relied upon so much.
Calculating perfect estimation is very difficult, and you can account for the fact that your timeline isn't perfect by making sure your schedule has some flexibility. For instance, breaking the timeline into small stories helps prevent the entire schedule from falling apart due to one estimation error.
Some of the factors that will affect your timeline estimation include:
- Software size: software projects range in terms of complexity and will need to be estimated accordingly. A software project that's more difficult or complex may take longer than a simpler one, so it'll need more time allocated for development.
- Software requirements: how many features does your software require? If you have complicated features with lots of different options, the software development process will take longer.
- Software complexity: how complex is your software to build? The more complicated a software project, the more significant its impact on timeline estimation and design time.
- Team size: always consider your own company's workload when estimating software development times and that of any external teams you need to rely on.
- Software coding standards: software development teams often have their own set of coding standards, which can affect how long it takes for a project to be completed. Different software projects may also require different coding styles or programming languages unfamiliar to your team, increasing the time needed in the software development process.
- Changes in requirements: software teams need to account for the software requirements that change partway through a project. Such changes can lead to time estimation errors, so your team must have enough flexibility in their schedule and budget.
- Stakeholder approval: software development time estimation can also be affected by how many stakeholders are involved and the software approvals required.
How To Correctly Estimate Development Time
The following is a loose guide on estimating how long your software project will take to develop. Consider every step and keep in mind the various factors that influence the duration of each step to estimate your project's timeline accurately.
- Define Your Project's Complexity: A software project that's more difficult or complex may take longer than a simpler one, so allocate more time for development. Analyze the requirements of the project and the tasks that your team needs to complete to determine how complex it will be.
- Give Overall Estimates: Keeping the software complexity in mind, take the resources available to you (number of teams and team members) into account. Rely on your past experience with similar projects to determine how much time is needed based on the team you have.
- Detail The Scope Of Work: The time estimation process often involves breaking down the requirements of a project into smaller, more manageable tasks. Doing so allows you to estimate the time it takes to complete these smaller tasks, making it easier to assess the project's overall timeline with greater accuracy. Consider implementing an agile methodology (which breaks up the development cycle into sprints) instead of the waterfall methodology (which refers to the development stage as one large task).
- Develop A Buffer Against Risks & Other Variables - software development time estimation can be influenced by outside factors such as software approvals and a change in requirements during the software project. Consider what other external factors might affect software development time estimation and factor in a buffer of about 20 percent to account for these unknowns.
- Provide Allowances For Time Eaters - Rely on your past experience to determine how much extra time you should add to the timeline to allow for inevitable delays and time-consuming tasks (such as too many team meetings). If you've worked on past software development projects, you likely remember what tasks and challenges resulted in the greatest waste of time that you'll need to account for.
What Causes Unfulfilled Time Estimates?
In software development, estimates are an approximation of how long it will take one person to complete a task. If you find that your team is spending more time than expected on any given task, this might be due to:
- Overwhelmed team members - If you’re assigning too many tasks to individuals because your team isn’t as big as it needs to be, they’ll quickly fall behind due to unrealistic expectations.
- Lack of structure to software project tasks - Tasks should be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces.
- Changing business requirements - Software development time estimation can change when requirements are updated during the software project or there is a change in priority.
- An unproductive team: Software development takes longer if not everyone on your team is productive due to a lack of experience with software projects and an unwillingness to share knowledge.
- R&D time: Software development time estimation has to account for research and design. Not allocating enough time to this stage can come back to bite you during the development process.
- Team member availability: Software development time estimation has to account for the availability of the software developers you assigned to tasks on the project.
- Lack of communication skills: If your team is not communicating effectively, they're likely spending more time than expected (e.g., someone needs assistance with a task but does not know where to go for help).
- Software approval: Software development time estimation is based on software approvals, which can take a long time depending on how many stakeholders there are and their availability.
Failure Due To Poor Planning
Poor software development planning can lead to unrealistic software estimation times. The system requirements should be clear from the outset, both to the stakeholders and the development team. By establishing your system requirements during the planning stages, your development cycle will be less affected by changing requirements, and you'll have fewer issues to deal with concerning stakeholders. After all, dealing with any challenges regarding system requirements is much easier to do during the planning stages than the development stages.
Ensure that the project also has the right architecture to support your system requirements. Proper architecture is necessary to support your application's performance, security, scalability, maintainability, extensibility, and interoperability. Architecture impacts having the right talent in place on your team. Without the right talent and experience, your development team will struggle to meet your application goals.
Finally, hearing from a few software developers on the team can also help with software estimation time. They can give you their general thoughts and ideas about how long certain tasks take them or what other unknowns might change software development time estimations. Don't forget, asking for feedback is an opportunity to set software development expectations.
Failure Due To Execution
Even if you did everything right during the planning stages, your project could still fall behind schedule due to a failure in execution, whether it's the fault of your developers or your stakeholders. It's why monitoring the project's timeline and tracking the work of your developers is vital to holding your team accountable and staying on course. Stakeholders need to be held accountable as well. Decisions will need to be made throughout the development cycle, which means stakeholders will need to be available to make those decisions and be decisive. Ensure that every project has one person designated as the ultimate decision maker so that there's no ambiguity over approvals.
You Can Pull Off Your Estimated Time For Software Development
As difficult as it may seem, it's not impossible to accurately estimate your project's development time. Software development time estimation is about more than just software developers and programming skills; it's also about stakeholders and software approval. It's about communication and monitoring, architecture, and talent. Achieving the right software estimation time requires setting realistic expectations and following steps to stay on course.