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How to Estimate Time for Software Development: Methods and Techniques to Check Your Developer
6 min.

There are a lot of factors that can slow down the software development process. The most influential one is developer productivity, which is affected by many elements, including development team size, number of tasks, time given to do all the tasks, and management style.

In this article, ProCoders’s project managers Dmitriy Kunev and Tymur Chornyy will tell you how to estimate software development time so that the deadlines aren’t violated, and a project goes like clockwork!

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Why Is Software Development Time Estimation Very Great?

Software development is complex. The process involves many stages and requires several people to work together, which can create issues in communication and coordination. Because of that, software development life cycle time estimation can predict, solve and even help avoid different troubles that may appear during this complex process.

Another reason why time estimation techniques in software development are worthwhile is that it gives time for developers to learn about new technologies or languages used on your project. This means that even if developers have previously worked on similar projects, they may still need time to get up-to-speed with the new technology before beginning your project. Additionally, it may take time for your team members to become familiar with each other to work effectively on your project (including working remotely or communicating via video chat).

Additionally, it gives some time for developers to learn about your company’s culture and processes before they start working on your project.

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At ProCoders, we have a Discovery Phase service during which we estimate the time for the whole project. We know that our clients usually want to plan everything before development even started, so we are trying to provide the most reasonable practices to do just that. Nevertheless, as it was already been said, software development is full of unpredictable situations, so these assessments have their own accuracy limitations.

How to Estimate Time for Software Development?

Many different software development time estimation formula, methods and techniques can be used to estimate the time needed for software development (and sometimes even to estimate the cost of software development). However, ProCoders uses and recommends Scrum, which refers to Agile software development methodologies and uses an iterative approach to development. Each iteration has a fixed period of required time during which the team adds certain functionality to the existing one.

The iterative approach is expressed in sprints with a clearly stated start and end date. The prepared functionality is deployed to the production server at the end of each sprint. This iterative approach also allows you to calculate software development time of a particular functionality using two metrics – story points and velocity (the speed of the development team or, in other words, how many story points per sprint the team completes on average) of the team as a whole.

In estimating software development time, story points are a value not tied to the task time (which most often confuses beginners), although there are cases when they are tied exactly to the time. In the case of ProCoders, this value is tied to task complexity. Usually, a project uses a series of numbers from 0 to 8.

  • 0 story points – the task is extremely simple and is performed quickly (less than an hour).
  • 2 story points – a standard task (average day of a software developer’s work).
  • 4 story points – a difficult task. Its requirement is additional time for research and implementation.
  • 8 story points – a very difficult task, the implementation of which requires thorough research and consultation to select an approach and possibly additional libraries.

A team’s velocity is the sum of the story points of all tickets the development team completes during the sprint (the sprint is fixed in time).

time estimation by scrum master

Velocity can be misleading because if, say, a team’s velocity is 34 story points on average, then an ordinary person might think that a team can be given 4 tasks for 8 story points and one task for 2 story points to cope, but this is not true. Sometimes it is tough to estimate the work duration, which can be from one day to two weeks, with all the emerging difficulties and pitfalls. Hence, it is customary to evaluate the complexity of the task and not the time to complete it. Also, do not forget that experienced software developers will cope with the same task of 8 story points faster than a junior developer. Any team tries to decompose such tasks into smaller ones of 2–4 story points each.

How to Double-Check Development Time Estimation and Avoid Overtime and Bootstrapping

To double-check time estimation for software development and avoid overtime and bootstrapping, you should:

  • find a team leader who would be responsible for development time estimation;
  • hold daily and weekly meetings;
  • hold retrospectives.

For example, at ProCoders, an experienced developer–team leader is in charge of estimating time for software development. After a general assessment of the entire scope of work planned to be submitted for the next sprint, developers can assign tasks to make changes to the estimate. All edits and clarifications (grooming) are accepted before the general Sprint Planning meeting, where the work required for the next sprint and all necessary adjustments and clarifications are discussed. After the sprint start, changes to the scope of work for the current sprint are prohibited.

Also, at a retrospective, all problems are discussed (for example, if someone broke deadlines for some reason). If daily meetings are held, the problem is raised earlier, and a team tries to eliminate it.

However, suppose it cannot be eliminated. In that case, ways to avoid such problems are discussed at the retrospective, where developers evaluate the work during the past sprint and discuss ways to avoid similar issues in the future (according to the Kaizen philosophy).

Want Your Project To Stick To All Deadlines? Then You Need a Clean Plan!

Software Development Time Estimation Example from ProCoders

At ProCoders, we do not use time trackers. Most often, a customer imposes their own software development time estimation methods.

Instead, we use the metrics described above – velocity, story points, as well as an employee reporting at the beginning and end of the working day (e.g., customers get the work plan for the day in the morning and the volume of completed tasks at the end of the working day with the status of the WIP type (work in progress), done\finished, or a description of a run-time problem). Based on these data, the software developer’s work can be evaluated following:

  • whether they worked 8 hours or less (time markers on messages);
  • whether they coped with the scope of work for the current sprint or did not have time to complete their tasks;
  • their speed during the sprint is above or below the rest of the team’s members.

These metrics are reliable enough to avoid installing tracking programs that take screenshots while a programmer is working.

FAQ
What is software project time estimation?

This process estimates how much time it will take to complete a software project. It involves determining how many people will be working on the project, what kind of tasks they’ll be performing, and how long those tasks should take.

How to estimate a software development time?

Several methods and techniques can be used to estimate the time needed for software development:

  • The PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) method provides a probability of completing each activity within a set time frame.
  • The CPM (Critical Path Method) gives a developer an idea of how long each task will take and how much the project will cost if they do everything on time or break the deadlines.
  • The COCOMO model uses various parameters, such as the number of lines of code, system complexity, etc., to arrive at an estimate based on historical data from similar projects.
  • Agile Software Development is another time estimation technique where developers collaborate with users throughout their product lifecycle to successfully deliver what users need without wasting too much time or money.
  • Waterfall Software Development is an approach where one phase must be completed before moving on to the next.
Ways to control the deviation from software development time estimation for each sprint?

Many factors can cause a project to deviate from its original schedule. Some factors are outside our control, while others are within it. There are some ways to control the deviation from software development time estimation for each sprint:

  1. Estimate work items carefully and accurately;
  2. Conduct a proper risk analysis and mitigation plan before sprinting;
  3. Manage change requests properly using a change management process or tool;
  4. Use agile software development methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, etc., which provide flexibility to handle changes efficiently.
Who might control the software development time to avoid bootstrapping if the developer is an outsourcing company?

ProCoders do not track time on any project, as we strongly oppose tracking per se in any project management model. Developers instead log the time spent on tasks daily, and then at the retrospective, we discuss with the team each particular case when the logged task time exceeds the task estimate, and in this way, we all learn to estimate better.

As for planning or estimating, ProCoders also use a kind of symbiosis of Fibonacci Sequence/Poker Planning approaches, where everything goes according to the Poker scenario. The number of estimation hours is taken not from the head but using the Fibonacci software development time estimation method.

What to do if the development time is different from the estimated one?

If the development time is different from the estimated one, there are a few things you can do:

  • You need to understand why it’s taking longer than expected. Was it out of your developer’s control, like a change in scope? Or did they make a mistake? If there is a mistake, it should be fixed as soon as possible. If there were outside factors, look at ways to ensure they don’t happen again.
  • Communicate the situation to your developer. Ask them whether they know what went wrong and what steps have been taken to fix it.

Conclusion

The right software time estimation is extremely important for every business. It has the next benefits:

  • it can predict, solve and even help avoid troubles that may appear during the software development process;
  • it gives time for developers to learn about new technologies or languages used on your project;
  • it gives some time for developers to learn about your company’s culture and processes before they start working on your project.

ProCoders recommends using Scrum, which refers to Agile software development methodologies and uses an iterative approach to development to estimate time for software development.

However, at ProCoders, we don’t use specific time trackers. Instead, we use the next metrics: velocity, story points, as well as employee reporting at the beginning and end of the working day. At the same time, our customers can recommend their own time trackers to be used on their projects.

Finally, remember to double-check the development time estimation. Here’re some tips for doing this:

  • developers can assign tasks to make changes to the estimate after a general assessment of the entire scope of work planned to be submitted for the next sprint;
  • daily meetings are held;
  • all the troubles and problems the team faced in the previous sprint can be discussed during the retrospective.
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