Whenever we talk to a company looking to build any kind of custom web application, we quickly get two big questions: How long does it take to build a website, web app, or mobile app? and How much will that cost?
It’s no wonder businesses ask these crucial questions, because the software development industry is notorious for overages with time and budget. Those are pitfalls businesses want and need to avoid in order to succeed in the digital world.
At Worthwhile, we work to deliver a no regrets experience to our customers. Part of that experience is providing reliable information about how much a project will cost and how long it will take. Still, these questions can be difficult to answer because of the custom nature of the web apps, mobile apps, and websites we build for our customers.
So it’s important for us to help our customers and potential customers understand the factors that determine cost and timeline. In a previous post, we discussed the factors that determine cost. Now, let’s focus on three major issues that determine the timeline of a custom software build.
The timeline for the planning stages of a software project can vary widely. At Worthwhile, we use a streamlined discovery starting with a face-to-face meeting. The full process typically lasts 2-3 weeks, depending on our client’s availability for meetings and feedback during the process. Other firms use a more robust approach that can last 8-12 weeks or more.
The reason the planning stage timeline can vary so much is that firms provide different levels of certainty during this stage. Some companies want detailed certainty before development begins. In that case, a longer planning period is appropriate.
At Worthwhile, we have seen time and time again that things change during development. As a result, we collaborate to identify the level of certainty a customer needs to move forward, while leaving some freedom for our developers to find the best solutions as we go. Often, this means that we commit to a fixed price and timeline before development begins—which gives our clients comfort and certainty.
Either of these approaches can work, as long as:
- The planning stage timeline allows both the company and the development firm to obtain the information they need to make decisions conducive to a successful project.
- And the planning stage timeline fits your company’s overall timeline and budgetary constraints.
The planning phase begins the timeline, and also serves to determine the timeline for the project moving forward. It’s a crucial step putting a project on an aggressive but realistic timeline from Day One.
Scope of Work
During the planning process, we work with our customers to determine the scope of work for the software build. This scope of work becomes the foundation for establishing a timeline for the project as a whole.
The scope of work determines the amount of effort it will take to successfully build a web app, mobile app, or website. Major factors that determine scope include:
Size of app or site
Polish needed at launch
Complexity (which we explain in detail here and here)
Scope equals effort equals time on the calendar. Make sure you understand how your project’s scope impacts timeline, and how changing functionality or size or polish or complexity will impact timeline increasing or decreasing.
One factor that is often overlooked in software builds is the way that feedback loops can impact the process. Revisions are a key to a successful project launch, and so you need to make sure that both your company and your development partner have an established plan for this kind of feedback.
If your development company doesn’t have a solid, established feedback process, then you run the risk of communication breakdowns that sidetrack the project and delay the launch date.
On the other hand, if your company isn’t ready to give feedback as scheduled, you may hold up the timeline. Waiting until the end of development to create punchlist items almost always means your developer will spend more time making fixes—and that’s a timeline disaster.
The Bottom Line
At Worthwhile, our projects range from about 3 months of development to 9 months or more. We work with clients to identify their timeline constraints and work together to craft a minimum viable product that can launch by their internal deadline. Often, we’ll continue to work with customers post-launch to make improvements and upgrades.
Whether you work with Worthwhile or another firm, you need to make sure you understand the factors that determine timeline so that you plan your project with a timeline that works for your business—and so you ensure your project actually finishes on the planned timeline.