How Long Should My Custom Software Take to Be Built?
Developing fully functional and secure custom software for your business enterprise can be a powerful solution for solving a myriad of very specific problems. Custom solutions are designed to meet custom needs, which means that such software applications, suites and packages will take a proportionate amount of time to meet the standards of your corporation. There are a variety of factors that can affect the amount of time required for software development.
That said, there are usually five to seven phases in general Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) models - all of which have different time frames attached to them, as shown below:
- Planning and Requirements - two to four weeks
- Design and Architecture - two weeks
- Development and Coding - three to eight months
- Implementation - two to four weeks
- Testing and Maintenance - three to six weeks
- Production - three weeks or more
As shown above, the total average time for custom software development is typically four to twelve months. However, it is important to note that, according to a study by KPMG Information Technology, 85 percent of software development projects go over schedule.
Timeframes Largely Depend on Scope of Work Required
It is difficult to gauge the exact time required for custom software development due to the differing nature of specific projects that have their own particular requirements. Such requirements may comprise the necessary inclusion of certain functionalities, security features, modules, APIs or external libraries. How the application needs to be integrated and implemented with existing software systems - such as legacy systems - also determines how long the development timeframe will be. If QA testers find bugs or software flaws, then remediation could take an extra week or month. Other considerations include complexity of business logic, migration of database software code, multiple platform support, whether the coding language is scalable (with regards to the scale of the project), and more. That said, the scale of the project ultimately determines whether a software project can be completed quickly, or whether more time will be required.
Large-Scale Versus Small-Scale Projects
Custom software development projects can typically be divided into two different groups: large-scale projects and small-scale projects. Large-scale projects will usually be associated with large enterprises in need of a high number of software integrations, which may include a great amount of API programming, migration of database data, and integration or remediation of legacy systems. General software integrations can be the linking of custom software with CRM suites, CMS applications, Business Intelligence suites, Accounting software, and more. Another note that is worthy to highlight is the role stakeholders play in the requirements and design of custom, large-scale, software suites. Such large-scale software projects often have alterations in their design at the discretion of stakeholders, which may require more time for implementation.
Small-scale projects usually require fewer modules, less API programming, less integration with other systems, and less QA testing. This is due to the simpler nature of a small-scale project. That said, security issues and system integration bugs will also typically be greater with large scale projects, which will require a greater timeframe for sufficient remediation.
The Phases of the Software Development Life Cycle
The separate and distinct phases of the Software Development Life Cycle carry different timeframes for completion, as noted in the introductory paragraphs. Each phase carries a very particular function in the building of a software suite, thus it is very important to detail how each phase may differ in time constraints for large scale and small-scale projects:
Planning and Requirements
This phase is where stakeholders and project managers detail the specifics of what the software application will do, and what overall problem the software is solving. This may require extensive planning in the case of large-scale projects, or may require little more than a week of determinations in the case of small-scale projects.
Design and Architecture
This phase of the SDLC is where the blueprint of the software suite will be decided, including the functionalities, third-party libraries, APIs, and what each application module will do, and how they all fit together. Large-scale projects will take proportionately longer to determine all of the required modules and how they will fit together, while small-scale project blueprints will be easier to determine and visualize.
Development and Coding
This phase is where software engineers code the application and build it from scratch, which in turn results in the longest phase. Naturally, the amount of application functionalities and modules (that are required) are directly proportional to the amount of time needed for coding. Thus, it follows that large-scale projects require more time than small-scale projects.
This phase of the SDLC is where engineers implement and integrate the custom software with existing systems (which may include legacy systems) and deploy the application in the target environment. This phase will be more complex with large scale projects - and large enterprises with a variety of software systems (e.g. CRM software, CMS suites, etc.) requiring integration - while small scale projects will require less implementation work and thus less time.
Testing and Maintenance
This phase is where QA and security engineers test the software for bugs, issues, flaws and integration misconfigurations, etc. Large-scale projects will typically require more implementation work with a variety of corporate systems, which creates a larger possibility for bugs and flaws. Such technical issues will require remediation, which - depending on the SDLC model chosen - may require much more time. Small scale projects, on the other hand, will usually have less issues associated with business system integration, while at the same time may have an equal number of technical bugs to fix.
This phase of the Software Development Life Cycle is where the project team deploys the software package to the end-user, and may also include future maintenance, security patches, etc. This may be thought of as a continuous process, and thus the timeframe for this phase can be as little as three weeks, or much longer.
Waterfall & Agile Methodologies
It is important to note that these phases as identified above are separated out following a traditional Waterfall Methodology. The Agile Methodology blurs the lines between these distinct sequential phases as tasks in each of these phases are all happening simultaneously and iteratively. However, all of the tasks in the phases listed above are still completely necessary when using an Agile approach. Put another way, the Agile approach offers quicker development, user feedback and reduced time to release to production for a smaller number of features (subsets of the final solution) – but the number of iterative releases increases until the final solution is deployed. The main point is that all features in a software solution still must be planned, designed, developed, tested, implemented, put into production and maintained no matter what methodology is being used.
Faster Is Not Always Better
When deciding on the process for custom software development, the coding language is also discussed and determined. One important factor for custom software is speed versus scalability and performance. For instance, while a scripting language may be faster to develop than a true object oriented language such as C# or Java, the enterprise solution likely needs a more robust development language to meet the long term business objectives.
Small Integrations of Custom Software with Existing Systems
As noted above, system integration is one of the most important factors when it comes to the time frame required for custom application development. Businesses in need of custom software will usually be integrating the new software suite with existing software systems. Corporations may only require a small number of software integrations with an existing system, which requires less effort, time and overhead compared with integrating large-scale projects with a large amount of enterprise software suites.
Custom Software and Small Functionality Upgrades for Websites
Custom software packages that are to be integrated with - or deployed on - websites, as web applications, may require an update to the existing web server infrastructure. However, deploying custom website software on a business website will typically only require small changes to allow for seamless integration and deployment, as such web applications usually introduce website functionality upgrades that are not major (they do not produce a complete overhaul). The main exception to that is with security, as new web applications often introduce new security vulnerabilities that must be swiftly dealt with by software engineers.
Complete Overhauls of Existing Systems
There are times where existing systems require a complete overhaul or rewrite. This is typical when a business is using large amounts of legacy software systems. According to Forrester’s Business Technographics, 75 percent of North American and European IT enterprises spend the majority of their budget maintaining legacy systems. Overhauling existing systems usually results in the modernization of IT systems, which requires a great amount of time and overhead for upgrades and re-integrations of enterprise suites and business systems.
Building Entirely New Systems All Together
Contrasting above, instead of overhauling an existing system, building a new, custom system is often required. This still requires the integration of new, custom software with old, legacy systems, if existing systems will remain in use. Another factor to note is the use of SaaS (Software as a Service), and the integration of Cloud systems with legacy systems. That said, the time needed for large or small-scale system building is always directly proportional to the number of features required, and the scope (or scale) of the system. Large enterprises usually need large-scale systems that are highly scalable, while smaller businesses may require less scalability, and only small-scale custom systems.
There Are Different Approaches to Building Software
Like any proprietary software, the model that is used in the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) for application development can affect the amount of time required for a completed product. Waterfall, Agile and DevOps models are the most widely used SDLC models today. Each model has its advantages and disadvantages, while requiring different time commitments for custom application development.
Time Frame of Waterfall Software Development Life Cycle
While the waterfall model may require more planning time, it is more straight forward, while remediation of flaws may mean a lengthier QA testing and maintenance phase.
Time Frame of Agile Software Development Life Cycle
Contrasting the waterfall model, Agile SDLC models typically use iterative, modular development sprints, which may mean quicker development times, and quicker changes to modules as flaws are found.
Time Frame of Dev Ops Software Development Life Cycle
DevOps incorporates iterative development with QA testing and operations administration tasks, along with concepts such as continuous delivery. All of the above processes associated with DevOps make development times noticeably quicker. Utilizing this model of software development thus cuts down on software development times and remediation of software bugs. However, there is significant time and cost and even culture shift associated with becoming an efficient DevOps capable organization.
Time Frames are Also Largely Dependent on Whether You Use Internal Resources, a Firm or a Freelancer
One last noteworthy factor for custom software development time frames is whether a business uses its own staff of technical resources or outside developers with a firm or a freelancer to develop the application in need. Leveraging your own internal software developers has its advantages because they likely have a deep understanding of the business requirements and the systems to integrate with. However, almost all organization’s developers are already at capacity maintaining existing systems and may not have the capability to develop using modern architectures, languages and emerging practices. While freelancers are typically programmers that operate alone or in small teams, a firm will typically employ a well-rounded, highly trained team of software engineers. Such a team will usually have engineers that specialize in software development, QA testing and Architectural design, and will consequently understand and implement the phases of the SDLC in the most efficient manner. These factors often mean cutting development times substantially. Having an experienced firm handle custom software development means using the skills of a team that specializes in custom software development, which ultimately can greatly cut down on time constraints, overhead and possible maintenance fees.
Custom software development doesn’t have to be a corporate unknown when it comes to cost and time constraints. Many factors affect the overall time required to build custom software, such as the scope, scale, functionality and integrations of the large or small-scale project. The different phases of the SDLC may all require different times for completion depending on the scale of the project, while the model used for software development likewise affects the time frame of custom software development. That said, custom software development by a team of software engineers, on average, takes anywhere from four to 12 months.