How to Estimate Software Development Time

Author: Karolina Matyska

Every software development project requires time estimations. These are usually complex projects that demand attention to detail and careful planning.

The responsibility for ensuring project deadlines are followed falls under the project manager, who’s also responsible for making the necessary time estimations for software development.

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It’s a complex process, as many factors affect the development of the project and its quality.

This article teaches how to estimate software development time. So, keep reading to learn what time estimation techniques might suit your current software development project.

What is the time estimation for software projects?

Time estimation for software projects predicts the time required to complete a software development project.

It involves analyzing the project’s requirements, breaking them into smaller tasks, and assigning time estimates to each job.

It’s important to note that time estimation is never an exact science; uncertainties and risks are always involved.

For the development of software projects, as for other endeavors, it’s essential to consider factors like potential risks, team expertise, and the need for buffer time.

We’ll explore further in this article that regular monitoring, communication, and adjustment of estimates throughout the project’s lifecycle are essential for successful time estimation for software projects.

How to estimate software development time

There are a few methods used to estimate software development time correctly. Along with these, there are also important actions that need to be taken into consideration immediately.

  • Define project scope – the project’s requirements should be clearly defined, as well as its features and functionalities. A well-defined scope will help in breaking down the work into smaller, manageable tasks.
  • Break down the tasks and create a list – the breakdown of the work into smaller tasks will be helpful when it comes to visualizing every stage of the process. It’ll also allow for better estimation and tracking of individual components.
  • Track team time – If your team tracks how much time they need to accomplish each task, it will be easier to estimate the length of a project in the future.

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  • Gather as much information as possible – collecting information and documentation related to the project will help the project manager and the team accurately estimate the time. This information includes documents, design specifications, wireframes, and other relevant materials. 
  • Take note of any task dependencies – certain tasks may need to be completed before others can start. Understanding these dependencies helps in sequencing and estimating the timeline.
  • Choose one estimation method (or more) – choose an appropriate estimation technique that aligns with your project and team dynamics. We’ll explore these options below.
  • Establish a timeline – in some cases, this is a project manager’s responsibility. So, the project manager can make his/her software development time estimation. For this step to be successful, the project manager should consult with the senior developer of the team, someone who will have experience in former projects and can give valuable input. This is basically a rough draft of the hours needed for every aspect of the project. It’ll help get things started.
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  • Involve the team – following up on the step above, collaborate with the development team to gather their input on estimation. Also, set up meetings to discuss your time estimations, talk about what should be the next steps, go over details, and ask for their opinions. The communication in the team should start on a strong note.
  • Assess your team’s abilities – following up on the communication effort; all team members need to be matched with tasks that fit their abilities.
  • Make use of timeboxing – timeboxing ensures that estimates are completed within a reasonable timeframe. 
  • Consider risks – account for potential risks and obstacles that could affect the project timeline. This can be done by including buffer time on the time estimations.
  • Keep adjusting as necessary –  regularly review and validate the estimations as the project progresses, adjusting the estimates as you go.
  • Track and monitor – continuously track and monitor the progress of projects and tasks against the estimated timeline. Identify any problems and take appropriate actions to mitigate risks and stay on track of what was estimated.

By combining estimation techniques, involving the team, and considering risks, your team increases the accuracy of estimations over time.

estimating software development time

Methods for estimating software development time

The most commonly used methods for estimating software development time are:

Use of historical data

The examination of previous project management time tracking data to the one being worked on. Every project is unique and must be taken as so, but examining data from previous jobs can set a good basis to start from.

For example, having the time tracking reports from previous projects can help identify how long briefing meetings took, helping the current time estimation.

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Analogous estimation

Researching existing similar projects and their historical data to serve as a basis to estimate software development time.

This method is also known as comparison estimation. Another method where keeping time tracking records is valuable.

Three-point estimation

As the name says, this method uses three estimates to be applied to each task: an optimistic one, a pessimistic one, and a most likely one.

The average out of these three estimates will result in the final one.

Parametric estimation

This method involves using statistical methods to make predictions. It uses data points from other projects, such as time-tracking data.

For example: if the meetings with the designer took 20 minutes in the previous project, it’s likely that that period of time can be estimated in the current one.

Bottom-up estimation

In this approach, each task is estimated individually, and the estimates are then aggregated to determine the overall project duration.

Planning poker

This method is a collaborative estimation technique where team members use cards with numeric values to estimate the effort required for each task.

It encourages team discussion since the group has to reach a consensus.

Expert judgment

The most experienced team members or project managers estimate the time based on their expertise and historical data from similar projects.

It is similar to the use of historical data methods in that time-tracking records hold great value.

Why is estimating software development time necessary?

Estimating software development time is essential for several reasons connected to project planning and resources.

Time estimation provides a foundation for effective project planning by:

  • determining project milestones
  • setting realistic deadlines
  • allocating resources appropriately

For resources, estimating software development time helps in determining the number of resources, such as developers, testers, designers, and project managers, needed for the project.

It allows for proper resource allocation and utilization, ensuring that the team is adequately staffed throughout the project lifecycle. This will allow for effective budgeting, avoiding cost overruns.

Time estimation also plays a crucial role in managing client expectations. Clients often have specific deadlines and delivery dates in mind when initiating a software development project.

By providing accurate time estimates, organizations can set realistic client expectations, enhancing transparency and trust.

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The importance of time tracking to estimate software development time accurately

Time tracking is the process of monitoring and recording the time spent on activities and tasks.

So, time tracking becomes important because it provides valuable historical data. It also helps increase productivity and efficiency because by tracking time, you and your team can identify time-wasting activities and reduce them.

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The benefits of time tracking for software development time estimations

  • It provides the most accurate estimates because time tracking records provide data on how long it takes to complete various tasks and projects. This data can be used to improve the accuracy of future estimates. When you have historical data on how long certain types of tasks or projects have taken in the past, you can use that information to estimate similar tasks or projects in the future more accurately;
  • Time tracking also helps when it comes to resource allocation. Knowing how much time different tasks and projects require allows you to allocate resources more effectively. It allows one to plan and schedule work based on the available resources and their capacity. This way, team members are not under or overused.
  • It helps to reduce inefficiencies. By monitoring the time spent on each task, the project manager can measure the productivity of the development team and identify areas where they are spending more time than anticipated. This information can help investigate the underlying causes and take corrective actions. By doing this, it also helps to increase your business efficiency.
  • Time tracking data can be used to communicate progress and manage customer expectations because it provides accurate updates on the status of the project and any deviations from the original estimates. When customers have visibility into the actual time spent on different tasks, they can better understand the complexities involved and make informed decisions or adjustments to the project scope or timeline. There’s more transparency and trust in the relationship organization/client because of the information time tracking gives everyone.
  • This data is also very valuable for the workers’ performance evaluation. In a software development time project, comparing estimated and actual time spent on tasks gives the project manager important information for performance evaluations, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing strategies to increase productivity and meet deadlines more effectively.


Accurate time estimation is crucial for successful software development projects. Even if it’s not an exact science, following a systematic approach and considering various factors can help project managers make more informed estimations.

The process involves defining the project scope, breaking down tasks, gathering information, considering task dependencies, choosing estimation methods, involving the team, assessing team abilities, incorporating buffer time for risks, and continuously adjusting and monitoring the estimates.

Accurate time estimation is important for effective project planning, resource allocation, and managing client expectations. If you use a time-tracking tool, you’ll see that your performance in the several phases of software development will increase.

It provides valuable historical data, allows for effective resource allocation, reduces inefficiencies, and facilitates communication. By monitoring and analyzing time-tracking records, project managers can continuously improve estimation accuracy, identify areas for improvement, and enhance productivity.

Right from the start, a structured approach to software development will contribute to better planning, resource management, and successful project outcomes.

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