How to Estimate Software Development Time?

by Anna Khrupa on Mar 23, 2022

As modern software gets more elaborate day by day, it becomes more difficult to estimate the development time precisely. Software projects also tend to increase in size, which brings further uncertainty to software development time estimation. Since the capability to evaluate the time needed for the development of any program depends on its size, it is easier to accurately figure out the duration of smaller projects. But precision is highly important in this industry, as more than 60% of software projects’ success depends on how well deadlines and financial limits are met.

Why Is Software Development Time Estimation Important?

Estimating software development time is crucial during planning. Thanks to these estimations, it becomes possible to evaluate the scope of efforts needed for each stage. The received information normally includes:

  • the time required for software development;
  • the number of team members needed for timely project completion and their specialization (software engineers, front-end and back-end programmers, etc.);
  • the budget frames for desktop or portable applications development (this can be estimated by taking the total hours required and multiplying them by hourly pay).

Software development time is the number of hours put into creating software based on specific requirements provided by the client. Each requirement corresponds to a certain feature that needs to be present in the software.

Why Is It Difficult to Make Accurate Estimates?

When it comes to time estimation, software development is one of the most difficult cases. When there is a certain deadline set for delivering goods, this date is considered final. But in reality, many things can influence the delivery period. With software development, it is even more difficult to calculate the exact date of creating a product. Here are some of the factors that usually influence the duration:

  • Force majeure. There are certain external factors beyond the control of developers, which are referred to as force majeure. Such situations might be caused by random software bugs that appear in the code.
  • Delays connected with team members. A lot can happen during a project: developers and other employees working on it can take a sick leave, leave the company, join another team, etc. Changes in a developing team affect the process directly. However, even with the whole team of developers and engineers in place, the professionals might need to learn new information and adopt the latest techniques they are unfamiliar with, which also takes time.
  • Changes in original requirements. Specifications provided by clients can change at any stage of the development process multiple times. In addition, re-work can be requested even after delivering a finished product. Additional touches and slight changes are often needed after the client tries out ready-to-work software. While such additions do not usually count towards the overall estimated time, it might seem that the process took longer than needed.
  • The estimated time usually remains the same. Unfortunately, making accurate estimates does not always work out, and when developers run behind schedule, the deadlines are rarely altered to provide more time for them to complete the work without haste. The teams usually try to keep up with the schedule at all costs. This hectic development and overwork are not good for either the engineers or the end product. Prioritizing speed over quality usually results in poorly designed software and a high level of client dissatisfaction.
  • It is hard to average estimates for software development. It is nearly impossible to figure out an average for program development projects. Some projects might take a few months to be ready, while seemingly analogous tasks require up to twenty months to be completed.

These are the key challenges that software developers and engineers face when trying to estimate a precise time needed for a specific project.

The Main Difficulties that Software Engineers Face When Estimating Software Development

The scope of responsibilities software engineers usually have is much wider than that of a developer. While the key difficulties listed above apply to any development project, software engineers might face the following specific challenges:

  • Creating applications is a long haul. Engineers need to take into account that software development does not consist of writing code only. There should be enough time allocated for research, brainstorming, and collaborating with other team members. The intellectual process behind writing codes requires enough time to generate high-quality ideas.
  • The volume of debugging is unpredictable and also requires extra time. While it is possible to finish a piece of software in time, this does not mean that it will be free of bugs and errors. It is impossible to predict how many bugs will pop up and how much time will be required to fix all of them thoroughly, which is why preliminary assessment might turn out to be incorrect.
  • Differences among team members. Software development teams are often very diverse, and each of the engineers can have a different level of skill and experience. If one of them believes he or she needs a certain amount of time to fulfill a task, this estimation might not apply to another professional. In this case, it is important for each tech expert to provide estimates based on their own potential.

How to Do Estimates for Software Development?

There are special techniques that allow estimating the time needed for creating a piece of software. Here are some of the most common tips on how to estimate development time correctly:

  • Divide a project into smaller tasks. It is more convenient to set time limits for certain tasks instead of a whole project. By making a comparison between different objectives, it becomes easier to estimate the time required to reach them. In addition, this approach helps developing teams adjust the overall time as they go. The method is beneficial not only for engineers but also for clients, as they will be able to receive regular updates on each stage.
  • Keep in mind all the objectives of the development process. Software development is a complex process that includes other tasks apart from coding. The project requirements have to be studied in detail to understand the scope of work. In terms of design, you should remember that elaborate interfaces are very time-consuming to create. As for the technology part, various resources, from common tools to third-party solutions, might be required to achieve the goal. The experience of each team member can also influence the length of the whole process.
  • Be ready to face unforeseen circumstances. Even the most precise estimations cannot predict the unpredictable. This is why adding more time on top of the preliminary assessments is a great strategy to anticipate unexpected situations. It is a common practice to double the estimated time in order to have plenty of hours for development and dealing with force majeure.
  • Ensure clear communication within the team. Coworkers should always be truthful with one another and share their ideas or uncertainties freely. This transparency is important, as a different amount of time is required for each professional to finish their tasks. Communication is crucial for brainstorming ideas and finishing the project successfully.

Using these techniques, you should be able to receive clearer estimates and make the software development process more efficient.

Why Is Making Accurate Estimates Beneficial for Both Clients and Developers?

Estimating the development time correctly is advantageous for both software engineers and their clients. This is how project time estimation is useful for a development team:

  • The scope of a project can be determined, and satisfactory deadlines can be set up.
  • It becomes possible to identify how many developers should be involved in a project.
  • Planning metrics required for software development can be calculated.

On the client’s side, there are also certain benefits to incorporating time estimation:

  • It becomes possible to predict an approximate time needed for completing a project. This is essential in case of strict time limitations set for timely delivery of the software to customers or the need to have a finished solution before presenting it to the clients.
  • The project cost changes based on its duration, among other factors. Knowing the approximate estimates allows both parties to determine whether they have a sufficient budget for the development.

As you can see, estimating the development time is important not only for developers creating software solutions but also for their clients.


Many factors are involved in estimating software development time, from the size of the project to its unique features and the number of engineers and developers working on it. While assessing the required time needed to fully develop certain software is quite tricky and often unpredictable, it is a highly important step at the beginning stages of the development process. It might be helpful to use data from previous similar projects to have a better idea of how much time the current task will require. Study the project requirements thoroughly and leave yourself plenty of spare time to deal with bugs and unforeseen issues.



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