Software development estimation. Why can’t you just get your idea development cost right away?

Every business owner knows how planning can be fundamental for project success. And the software development time and cost estimation is a significant part of it, often without getting them right it’s pretty much impossible to say if the implementation will be worth it/ in time to win the market.

But here is where another problem begins, developers often refuse to make a development effort estimation and even the worst scenario – if they make it unrealistic (by accident or just to win the project). So in this article, we want to outline the factors that influence the development time and cost estimation and the ways you can contribute to this process.

Let’s start from the beginning.

What is Development Project Estimation and why it’s so important?  

Project Estimation is the process/ practice of analyzing and trying to determine (on the basis of it) the amount of effort and time (usually hours) that needs to be dedicated by developers to implement the idea. This also includes any management and progress tracking and deadlines/ launch dates set based on these estimations.

The overall project, for this purpose, can be divided into many smaller tasks and milestones. In order to achieve a more exact software development estimation. It’s the right approach as the bigger the relative size, the more inaccurate the estimation can become at an exponential rate.

Customers focusing on the development cost estimation for a few quite obvious but fundamental reasons. Sometimes software release or the introduction of new features are sticking to the fixed date. The market will not wait forever for your idea to shine so many startups are trying to release asap. This approach is pretty dangerous as shifting the focus from the overall quality. Another case is to release by upcoming industry conference or big event, so it would be a good marketing opportunity.

One of the other popular reasons is – investments. Investors always want all processes to be transparent so demanding a detailed development time and cost estimation for each stage. They rate efficiency, progress by different metrics. This is also a legitimate reason if the metrics provided are meaningful, valuable, and accurate enough to warrant the time and cost overhead.

Besides the time, project budgeting is what matters a lot too. Many projects are pretty limited budget-wise so development cost estimation is fundamental for them to see how much they can implement.

Influencing factors for software development estimation.

Aside from being overly optimistic, development specialists are often under a lot of pressure. Every estimation that turned out as unrealistic they have to take responsibility for. In any way, the estimates, even the “rough” ones, often end up being considered commitments in the client’s mind. The main problem – it’s mostly predictions, and in the end, it might take twice as much time. Without proper documentation and detailed project requirements, it’s impossible to make an accurate guess.

Firstly, you need to take an account of factors that can influence software development estimation:

1. Unclear requirements at the start of the project, lack of quality documentation;

2. Client unpredictably changing the requirements;

3. Personal developer’s experience and productivity level particularly if multiple people are involved;

4. Sick leaves, communication delays (often from client-side), holidays, etc.;

5. Overlooking potential issues with 3rd party integrations;

6. Additional research time;

7. Administrative work and non-engineering related requests;

8. Unforeseen issues with maintainability, architectural flaws/imperfections, scalability, performance, testability, etc.

In almost all cases, some of the above or even a few at the same time are the results of inaccurate development effort estimates. It’s not always possible to take them into account before the start of the development. So the common practice is adding some padding to estimation, you may say ‘put in the risks’.

Also, you need to take into account one of the interesting phenomenons that can influence the process. Parkinson’s law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. This certainly applies to software engineers, and more specifically, an engineer that will work full time. So there needs to be a healthy balance.

So let’s get back to the point.

What needs to be done to make the software development estimation process easy-breezy?

After outlining the factors that influence the process it’s pretty straightforward. In the best-case scenario, the client provides detailed information about the project, and still, there are many risks and roadblocks. And in the worst, the requirements are unclear and the client needs the development effort estimation ‘yesterday’.

So no wonder developers are not very happy to make software development time estimations and take responsibility for them. Yet experienced teams usually have a good flow and predict most of the risks. But to do so they need a good information base from the client.

Let’s outline what realistic estimate should generally consider:

+ Detailed specifications – one of the most obvious factors yet many clients still skip it. The more information you can provide on the scope of the project, user flow, and the desired outcomes the better.

+ Graphic design/ Wireframes – Ideally to get the most reasonable development effort estimation ready designs are perfect. But in the initial stage, even simple drawn wireframes will do for developers to understand the structure and idea. Keep in mind – Complex UI elements usually require more engineering effort and take longer to implement.

+ Technology stack/Integrations – Depending on project specifics, there are numerous tools and integrations your team can use to solve different problems. Developers can’t know them all so you need to buffer the time for the devs research or the learning curve.

+ The personal experience factor – The experience of the developer can play a significant role especially if the developer implemented similar projects before. Keep in mind – the difference between senior developer efficiency and junior can be really big. Therefore, estimates should be tailored to the team that will work on the project.

There is a good rule for specification – ‘’It can’t be too detailed’’. Even if it seems pretty straight forward there can be more important details. You can document a simple description like –  “User can login into the app” but a developer will have a dozen of questions:

– What type of login should be implemented (email and password login or social networks login and if yes, which ones)?

– Should the fields in the registration form have any restrictions (maximum number of characters, type of characters, password strength requirements)?

– How should the input fields detect and handle errors (invalid email, password, etc…)?

– Is the “Remember Me” option needed? If yes, for how long should the information be stored?

– Which password recovery option should we use?

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So if you have the opportunity to work on the specification with someone technical or your development partner can assign a project manager to work with you, with no doubt – do that. In the long run, the good specification can win you a great amount of time.

OUTLINE

Software development estimations never come easy. It requires great analytics skills and experience from the developers and patience, help from the client. Projects often considered being “behind” because of incorrect estimates even without significant development issues.

A healthy balance is fundamental between underestimation and putting in too many risks. 

Fixed or target deadline/budget can be very important and valuable for the project but should be handled using appropriate techniques. In any case, it’s better to take the time to do things properly with high-quality standards. It will be a win for the project in the long run.

This article is a good base so if you feel like you outlined all the points and are ready to take a step forward – we at AMgrade up to provide you an exact estimation and implement the idea. Drop us a line!