AgileProduct Development

How long does it take to build custom software?

You don’t need to be an Einstein to agree that time is relative. A long period for you may be a brief moment for the software development team, depending on various factors. How will it affect your deadlines? Check our take on one of the most problematic aspects of every commercial project – time.

Woman in grey t-shirt wearing glasses and woman in burgundy hoodie sitting on a couch

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It happened again: you asked for an additional simple feature, and your development partner came up with a much higher time estimate than you expected. Why do you need to wait so long? Do you have unrealistic standards, or maybe there are really some reasons to worry?

These doubts are common in IT project collaborations and may lead to misunderstandings and unnecessary frustration. In this article, we will try to show you the development process from the inside out in order to explain why things often take more time than expected.

But worry not – we won’t limit ourselves to that! You can also expect tips that will help you streamline work and avoid errors that extend the overall project timeframes, stretching your deadlines. Without further ado – let’s talk about time!

Simple = quick?

A few simple changes here and there, one simple function to add – it shouldn’t take long, should it? We’re starting from a high note – with a no.1 misconception customers of the IT companies share. Simple does not equal quick, particularly in the IT world. There are a few reasons for that.

First – because of the way the functionalities are described. They should be brief and short so that developers can quickly read and revise them. A simple structure also prevents ambiguities which could lead to differences in interpretation.

That does not mean, however, that their implementation will be easy. Sometimes these simple sentences or keywords hide complex computational problems that take time to solve. That refers particularly to the high-level descriptions of goals and systemic features, which are more abstract in nature and reflect “the big picture” instead of focusing on the details. Even when dealing with a user story, not a brief technical requirement, the same scenario may occur.

Another aspect worth noting is the testing. Whether you create a product from scratch or implement changes in the existing software, you will need to validate any change with tests, either manual or automated. That takes time, too, which the customers need to remember.

One line in theory, long hours in practice?

Any change in software, unless you are working with the WYSIWYG approach, requires interference with code. Customers are often not fully aware of the fact that what they consider a simple change may involve numerous code lines. And even if it’s only one line, it will take a while since we are dealing with a network of dependencies, involving developers, Product Owner, project managers, and testers.

Here’s what it looks like in a nutshell. Once defined and introduced into the project management system, the changed requirement arrives to the developer, who has to prepare the working environment first. It may be ready in an instant, but in the case of more complex applications, it often takes a few minutes to launch all the dependencies.

After changing the code, the team should test the change and the elements linked to it. Sometimes, they need to write new tests for this purpose. Code review is another step not to skip. The team has to prepare the code that will be pushed on the repository and merge changes that will be published in a suitable environment.

One line doesn’t seem that little anymore, does it? The process above demonstrates how complex software development is, and understanding its components is essential to estimate the timeframes of the custom software development project.

Custom software development cycle vs. time

Before we start analyzing the software development cycle, an important note: its shape depends on the selected project methodology. At Inwedo, we work with the agile development approach, and thus, we will focus on it in further paragraphs.

The process may take different turns depending on the methodology, but it always involves cycle phases such as planning, analysis, design, development, testing, implementation, and maintenance. They may be successively completed one after another, as happens in waterfall development, or repeated, like in agile methodology.

Value-oriented scrumprocess graph

Value-oriented Scrum process

What makes agile stand out are the iterations (sprints), which you can see in the image above. Within each sprint, which usually takes two weeks, the team passes through all the phases of the development cycle. Such an approach allows the team to deliver work in smaller portions and maintain higher flexibility when it comes to introducing changes. After each iteration, the customer can provide them with feedback and modify the requirements.

That, of course, has an impact on the delivery time. There are much more opportunities to introduce small changes in this model. If you wait until the end, small issues or inconsistencies may escalate to a much bigger scale. And the more complex the problem is, the more time it takes to tackle it. You are always facing the unknown, leaving all the fixes for the end, accepting the risk that the project’s timeline could extend significantly. With agile, the deadlines are easier to meet without issues on the way.

What impacts the length of the software development process?

The spectrum of factors that impact the progress tempo is what makes it so hard to estimate the timeframes of the custom software project. Here’s the list of the most significant ones.

1. Your software development team

The competencies and experience of your team obviously impact how quickly things progress. Aside from the skills and tech stack, there’s also the human component. A close-knit team is not just a cliche used for employer branding purposes. If its members are on good terms, they will likely deliver better and faster.

Since we’re here, a quick note: clients often forget that the efficiency fluctuates throughout the project. Thus, you shouldn’t expect each member of the team to stay productive 100% of the time. In fact, such an approach is a double-edged sword as it may lead to burnout. When the team is well-aligned as a whole and the schedule – is thoughtfully planned, these fluctuations should not impact the delivery anyway as the productivity autoregulates. It’s worth keeping that fact in mind, though, when it comes to understanding time in the development process.

2. Methodology

We have already touched on this aspect in the previous part of the article, but summing up – the choice of project methodology will hugely impact the tempo of your project’s progress. We are staunch supporters of agile, as it has proven to work best for us, but each methodology has its pros and cons. There’s no point in saying that one of them is faster than the others, as it depends on the complexity and requirements of your software.

What we can confirm for sure, though, is that the sprints, which are fundamental to the agile methodologies, dynamize work, distributing the workload. The team feels they are actually progressing and receives feedback every two or three weeks, which can boost their productivity.

3. Project scale

Another factor that obviously impacts the project timelines. The more complex your project is, the more time you will need to develop it and the more fixes you will likely introduce.

In software development, we loosely divide projects into small-scale and large-scale ones. The latter usually refers to enterprise software which, by its nature, requires a lot of API programming and integrations, database migrations, and legacy software work.

All these tasks are work-intensive, which impacts the project time. In addition, large scale usually implies that there are many people involved, including team members and stakeholders. Their workflows may differ, and it takes some time to align them.

However, the impact of the project scale on project timeframes – and your perception of it – depends largely on the choice of the methodology. In the case of the waterfall, you will wait quite a long time to get any results delivered. On the other hand, working with an agile team, you will not really feel that passage of time, as the work is regularly delivered in sprints.

A man with glasses writing software code.

4. Project requirements

Every project has its requirements, which largely define the course of its development. Which functionalities does your app include, and what’s their complexity? Do you need to integrate your software with any existing systems, and if so – how compatible are they? How many modules, API interfaces, and external libraries will you link to your solution? Will you need to migrate the database code?

All these aspects impact the length of your project and its progress pace. Factors such as business logic, scalability of the programming languages applied, and the destination of your app also contribute to it. If you want it to work on various platforms, it will naturally take longer, but there are frameworks you can reach out to cut this process by compiling native apps from a single codebase (like Flutter).

5. Frameworks

Speaking of frameworks, their choice will significantly impact the tempo of your progress. Framework per se speeds up the development process since it provides you with a structure to work on instead of building your codebase from scratch. You choose the framework based on the programming language of the project and the type of task it is supposed to serve. Every project may involve various frameworks that divide into the:

  1. Front-end frameworks – like Angular, React JS, or Vue JS,
  2. Back-end frameworks – like .NET, nest.js, Ruby on Rails, Spring Boot, or Django.
  3. Mobile frameworks – like Java, React Native, or Flutter.

They are supposed to make the developers’ life easier, so the key is to know their specifics and find the right combination. Being those who work with technological tools on a daily basis, the members of your development team should know best which tech stack will be the best fit for them. Even if you don’t take an active part in its selection, it is worth remembering that the right frameworks can speed progress up, and the wrong ones – quite the opposite. Less is more – your team should stick to the essential tools to avoid the tech stack getting “stuffy”.

How to speed up the development process without compromising quality?

As you may already have assumed, we cannot answer the question in the title because there is no exact answer for such.

What we can do, however, is to give you tips that will cut the time of your development and boost the progress pace. This way, you can at least make sure it will be as short as possible, even if you don’t know yet how much time exactly it may take.

1. Go Agile!

As an agile company, we naturally advocate for this methodology – not only because it resonates with our approach to work, but also because our customers are happy with the results it provides. There is science behind it – research proves that projects that rely on agile are approx. 28% more effective.

We have already described the nature of the iterations which enable maximum flexibility, but we haven’t mentioned the cross-functional and self-regulatory specifics of the agile team. These features also cut the development time since the team members are much more independent and do not rely on you as much as in the other methodologies.

The agile approach also helps to maintain the high quality of the code as you can validate it and improve its quality between the short sprints. And the clean code is much easier to work with, which speeds up the implementation of the changes.

If you’re curious about the benefits of agile cross-functional teams, here’s our article that centers around them.

Man sitting at the desk in front of a monitor

2. Plan with moderation

Remember that the software development process is not only about the coding itself. It involves other, less “glamorous” but essential tasks like environment configuration, test planning, or code reviews. Even if they take only a moment to complete when separate, together they may take a while. That’s why, to keep things realistic, the project schedule should include these elements. Skipping them may be counterproductive and even sabotage the project’s success.

At the same time, don’t forget that the plan should not be too rigid, and don’t get too attached to it. In the end, you are not working with robots, but a team of professionals that need little breaks from time to time. Efficiency always fluctuates, and your project roadmap should reflect that.

3. Think well about your requirements

The project roadmap relies on the requirements. Any change in these affects the scope of work and, thus, impacts the time it takes to develop your software. It is natural that the requirements evolve throughout the project, but with good planning, you can reduce the probability of these changes, which will keep your estimations more accurate. In order to be capable of doing that, it is worth defining your project in detail with the product team at the very beginning and analyzing the possible scenarios of its development instead of focusing on one.

A deep understanding of your project will also help the Product Owner write better requirements and user stories. If they are simple, illustrative, and lack ambiguities, the team will be capable of interpreting them correctly, avoiding mistakes that could slow down the development. If you’re working with an external team, spend enough time with them during the ideation phase to define and refine each requirement. This way, you will save much more time on the fixes!

At the same time, take some time to consult the choice of the tech stack with your development partner. Even if a particular technology matches your objectives perfectly while being affordable, it could impact your schedule due to, for instance, a steep learning curve, challenging integration, or security concerns. Ask the professionals in the team for opinions to find the middle ground.

Summing up

We hope this article helped you understand better the complex issue of time in software development. We would love to hear more about your project to give you a more defined idea of how long it may take. To get more insights about the product development process at Inwedo, check the information on our website!