software development time estimation

Time Estimation in Software Development

Accurate time estimation is vital to every software project’s success. This information enables developers to give their clients immediate and accurate status reports on different completed or ongoing tasks.

But even though project management and estimations have been around for decades, most software projects still fail to meet the finish line on time. A study published in Harward Business Review stated that, on average, 27% of the 1,471 IT projects they analyzed had a schedule overrun of almost 70%.

But what is project time estimation in software development?

Project time estimation usually starts by making predictions about the number of hours a single developer takes to complete a task (of course, it may vary for each developer). It determines the amount of effort a developer has to put on developing a software product. 

This information enables product owners to make predictions about the overall budget, the number of developers on their team, and the project’s timeline.

How do you estimate the time in a software project?

After breaking your software project’s scope into epics and user stories and relatively estimating its effort through agile techniques, it’s time to determine its timeline.

Project time estimation is highly dependent on three factors and varies when these factors differ:

  1. The developing team’s experience, seniority, and velocity:

A team with more experience will surely complete a task faster than a new and inexperienced team; this quality is considered the team’s velocity. The term stands for the amount of progress a team can accomplish in a set amount of time. 

Product managers calculate this factor by dividing the total number of story points to the number of iterations of work (like sprints in a scrum framework).

  1. The project’s scope and complexity:

A large and complex software project takes more time to complete than a simpler one since the latter has fewer features to develop. 

The system’s integration is also a factor to consider; this term defines the practice of combining different subsystems and components to make a more complete and complicated system. By adding additional subsystems, the time also increases exponentially.

  1. Risk factors:

Software development is a process of discovery, so there’s bound to be some degree of uncertainty to it. 

There are always unexpected complications in the project as the developing team moves forward, such as productivity issues or a sudden growth in project requirements. Fixing these issues often takes them a considerable amount of time. 

To avoids messing up the project’s timeline, product managers estimate the time of each item and double it before scheduling the project to reserve some time for unpredictable risk factors. 

Product managers must start by detailing out all tasks and user stories and their requirements, and then, consider their story points and needed effort. Finally, by taking the three factors above into account, product managers estimate how much time it takes to accomplish each activity and add those estimates up to obtain the project’s timeline.

Why does project time estimation matter in software development?

Research by the Project Management Institute (PMI) stated that insufficient and inaccurate time estimation is the main reason for 25% of projects’ failure.

Of course, you cannot predict everything with 100% accuracy in a software project (including the time).

But on the one hand, underestimating the time in software development rushes things to the point of harming the project’s outcome and causes different segments of the business to fall out of sync with one another.

On the other hand, overestimating the time adds other complexities. You’re probably familiar with Parkinson’s law. If not, Parkinson’s law refers to the idea that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. For instance, if you decide to schedule an hour to complete a task you can finish in 30 minutes, you’re more likely to complete it in an hour (even though you could do so in 30 minutes). So you can see how there are 30 minutes of wasted productivity here.

In a way, an accurate time estimation for a software project is only a small chunk of a bigger picture in an IT company. Many factors must proceed simultaneously for a business to function; this includes coordination between different technical and non-technical teams, such as financial and communication managers, customer support representatives, etc. All these segments must coordinate with one another perfectly, so the business doesn’t deviate.

But a realistic time estimate and meeting deadlines are, most importantly, the metrics that determine the success of a project. These factors directly influence the future of a business. 

How does WinATalent estimate the time of your software project?

We offer estimation services at WinATalent that help you have a clearer understanding of your project’s backlog tasks, its requirements, and its final version.
First, we start by estimating the scope of your software project. We break your project into tangible epics and specific user stories and determine its minimum requirements.
Then, we discuss your project among our team members and estimate its backlog tasks and assign story points to each one by using agile techniques.
In the end, we will provide you with a report that consists of several relative time and budget estimates based on different circumstances, such as your in-house or outsourced team’s experience, your project’s complexity, etc.
By using this data, you will confidently know what to expect from your team and your final deliverable product.

Find out more about our estimation services at WinATalent.

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