How to Estimate Development Time for Your Software Project?


How to Estimate Development Time for Your Software Project?

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Once you've come up with a bright idea for software, you might start thinking about the timeline to bring it to life. Indeed, there’s a lot of time-consuming work to be done before millions will use your product. 

Everyone faces the never-ending questions of "How long will it take to develop?" and "Will it be done in time?" And, of course, everyone wants answers. 

However, accurate development time estimation is not as simple as it may seem at first glance. This process requires taking into account certain factors which we’ll talk about in this article. We will also tell you how we, a software development company with 10+ years of experience, approach it. Alright, let's go!

On the spot

Software development time estimation helps calculate the time to perform all necessary tasks at different project stages. A timeframe is affected by:
⦿ A type of a project
⦿ Software size
⦿ The size of a development team

There are various reasons for conducting estimates including:
⦿ Awareness about the approximate time for project completion
⦿ Determining scope of work and tasks
⦿ Defining an optimal team size
⦿ Allocating resources

Making an estimation is important to:
⦿ Create a development roadmap
⦿ Manage uncertainties
⦿ Help teams, managers, and other parties establish reasonable expectations for each development stage 
⦿ Ensure transparent relationships with a Client (actual and very important in our case)
⦿ Set undesirable stop limits that may arise with the time & materials approach
⦿ Deploy a product by the planned deadline

There’re methods to correctly estimate timeframes and set a project deadline:
⦿ Analogous Estimation
⦿ Planning Poker
⦿ Top-Down Estimation
⦿ Three-Point Estimation
⦿ Parametric Estimation
⦿ Wideband Delphi

The factors that complicate making a correct estimate are:
⦿ Software development process complexity
⦿ The uniqueness of each project
⦿ Varying experience of the team members
⦿ Possible Force Majeure situations

If you want to discover more insights about software development time estimation and learn our practice - stay tuned!

The Importance of Estimating Development Time

All stakeholders, of course, are interested in the project’s progress. Funders also evaluate the project's potential based on delivery time and budget. And proper investments directly affect future business’ growth and profitability.

Basically, estimation helps predict resources, effort, and costs necessary to complete and launch software to market. Besides, one of our reasons to do it is to give our Clients an approximate project delivery time.

Estimating is essential to:

  • make a development roadmap
  • manage uncertainties
  • help our teams, managers, and other parties establish reasonable expectations for each development stage 
  • ensure a transparent partnership with our Client
  • set undesirable stop limits that may arise with the time & materials approach
  • deploy a product by the planned deadline

Development time underestimation can lead to money loss for continued development, and its overestimation can lead to customers simply not receiving a product. That's why a proper evaluation gives an accurate benchmark for the team, and we always do our best to provide realistic figures.

Reasons to estimate development time

As a Client, you certainly want to know the approximate timeline to: 
⦿ understand when, roughly, your project will see the light (especially important when deadlines are tight);
⦿ make decisions about resource allocation and project prioritization;
⦿ have a transparent work overview.

For us, development time estimation helps to:
⦿ plan and manage a project;
⦿ break down the scope of work into tasks to understand the duration of each;
⦿ define an optimal team size;
⦿ allocate our resources and contribute to the overall project success.

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Methods to Estimate Hours

Actually, there are many methods of estimating development time, and everyone tries to use the most appropriate one for them. Here are some of the best-known approaches which we at SENLA use.

Methods how to estimate software development time

Analogous Estimation

The essence of this method is to calculate the exact development time by analogy with similar projects, but only to adjust the estimates to the current requirements. For example, we can use the time it took to complete a project with an identical scope of work or technology stack and make necessary tweaks as per the current specifics.

Planning Poker

Planning poker, also known as "scrum poker", is an Agile estimation and planning technique used to help scrum teams determine the effort required to complete specific tasks in product backlog.

The team collectively estimates the effort required to complete tasks. Each team member is given a set of “playing cards” with values representing different units of effort. Then they discuss the task, select a card that represents the most precise estimate, and reveal them simultaneously. Differences in estimates are discussed to reach a consensus.

Interesting fact: James Grenning created planning poker in 2002 as an alternative to the popular project evaluation methods as he thought they didn't solve problems too well. Mike Cohn included Grenning's idea in his book, Agile Estimating and Planning.

Top-Down Estimation

The top-down estimation method involves first reviewing the entire project and then breaking it down into key parts. Our experts determine the development time for each of these parts and then put them all together to generate an overall project estimate. This method requires closer attention to detailed tasks.

Three-Point Estimation

Using this method, we calculate three scenarios for each challenge: optimistic, pessimistic, and the most likely one. The final estimate is worked out by averaging the three. A key strength of this technique is a reduced risk of overestimation.

Wideband Delphi

Wideband delphi is a consensus-based evaluation method that involves our experts who independently and anonymously evaluate a project. Then, the results are discussed in a group until it reaches consensus. Because of this, however, the wideband delphi method can be quite time-consuming.

Why it is Complicated to Accurately Estimate Software Development Time

Reasons for bad development time estimation

It might seem at first that estimating development time is not that difficult. But in fact, the process can be really complicated and cause concerns. And rightly so. Gartner's study found that only 55% of all product launches happen on time.

Why is it so uneasy to come up with a correct estimate? That’s due to a number of reasons.

Reason №1 — Software development process complexity. It is tough to foresee how much time each development stage will take. No developer has 100% protection against unforeseen performance issues; libraries, environments and architecture flaws.

Reason №2 — The uniqueness of each project. Even if there was a similar project before, there are always different reasons affecting the timing. Likewise, changes may come in. For example, to implement additional functionality or, conversely, remove some features.

Reason №3 — Experience of the team members. Depending on the team's composition, some people may lack certain skills or experience, which harmfully affects development time and its estimation. Weak and inexperienced team members may pull everyone down and create delays in project output. Plus, each developer will have a different pace of work, depending on their knowledge, expertise and productivity.

We form the team according to the project needs, but here we'll give you an example of a classic SENLA Unit - project pod with a senior developer, middle developers, and junior developers. 

Our senior expert (you can find out more about their tedious work in our article What Does it Mean to Be a Senior Developer at SENLA?) supervises internal processes, manages daily routine, handles communication with clients, determines the architecture for future solutions, and ensures quality control. 

Middle-level developers are our highly skilled professionals who can independently complete project tasks. 

We also engage junior developers who independently perform simple tasks and help others close complex ones so as not to distract their senior colleagues.

This proven method has been our most efficient team organization for over 10+ years.

Reason №4 — Force Majeure. When estimating development time, it is worth taking into account that some things (or everything) may not go according to plan and cause unforeseen situations, delaying the development process. This could be, for example, system failures or integration problems. Subsequently, the team will fail to meet all deadlines. 

Although, as said, no one is safe from mistakes, we at SENLA always try to minimize their number, approaching development time estimation with all seriousness and trying to provide the most close-to-life figures.

What Takes Time When Developing Software

A GoodFirms study showed that a software development project takes one to nine months to complete, averaging about 4.5 months. What does that time go for?

Software development time

Requirements and Design

Here our teams work closely with our Clients to:

  • Document system requirements and determine the initial project scope
  • Prioritize development tasks
  • Brainstorm various ideas and software features
  • Discuss the desired design and create it 

The length of this phase depends on:

  • Our Client’s responsiveness to development reviews and answering questions
  • The time to make key decisions

Architecture and Engineering

The first stage is planning that involves structuring the work of the development team, setting tasks, and allocating resources. It usually lasts 2-3 days. The team, based on the selected stack, determines how they will work together and then create architecture. This stage can take up to two weeks, but the exact time depends on the system's size and complexity. After the architecture is built, the team begins development which takes the rest (and the majority) of this phaze’s time.


Depending on the development model you choose (read about the most popular ones in our recent article Top 10 software development models in a nutshell), testing will either be performed throughout the development lifecycle or only at its very end. When the entire development is over, however, functional testing begins. Generally, this phase takes three to six weeks depending on the software size and the scope of testing required.

Don't forget about

Changing requirements
Adding new features or removing planned ones can significantly affect development time and time-to-market. Anything that deviates from the set requirements and requires re-development and/or additional changes prolongs the timeline.

Technology stack
The project’s size and complexity may demand using special tools, programs, APIs and systems that may require learning. The point of development should compensate for the time spent on training and adaptation.

Wrapping Up

Remember that knowing what features, preferences, and capabilities you want to implement is the basis for a proper development time estimate. The estimate should be realistic and help your development meet deadlines.

If you have a brilliant idea for your future project, you're not sure about the project's viability or you want to strengthen an existing development with IT outsourcing - contact us, and we'll explain everything and help you. Our experts will help you estimate time for your project and answer all your questions!


Transparent process

We provide full cooperation transparency to you by assigning certified project managers, regularly demonstrating and reporting on the work done to ensure the achievement of high results.

Proven track record

We’ve been in the game for 10+ years now and have completed over 350 projects. During this time, we’ve built a strong knowledge of how work needs to be done. The words of our happy Clients are the best proof of that.

Eagerness to deliver

We don't limit ourselves with standard practices and agreed-upon conditions only. If a project starts demanding more, we are the first to discuss. Be it additional development, new platform integrations, personal visits — we will do everything to ensure that our Clients are happy. You can learn how we work in our cases section.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do we start cooperation?

First is an introductory call with our BD team to clarify the project needs. Upon your request we sign an NDA. After the evaluation, we offer a preliminary solution (CV, timelines, etc.). If everything is OK, our staff can get to work in as little as 5-10 business days, depending on the engagement model that you choose.

Can you estimate a timeline for my project?

Of course. We review your wishes and requirements for the project, and taking all factors into account, estimate the development time during the discussion stage.

I am not happy with my current vendor. Can you overtake the development?

If you are not satisfied with your existing partnership, you can transition the work to us. We will gladly take the ball and run with it, bringing our attitude to guarantee your satisfaction.

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