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5 Proven Tips to Get a Realistic Software Project Estimate

Anyone who has ever worked on a custom software development project knows that estimating the requirements of time and resources can be a tricky business. In order to get an accurate estimate, many factors must be taken into account; including the complexity of the project, team experience level, and technology competency. But with these five tips, you can get a more realistic estimate that will help you stay on track for success!

1. Clear Vision and Requirements

A custom software development project will require a detailed requirements specification (SRS). This a document will include the "story" of the application. It contains the feature requirement analysis, wire frames, use cases, target audience, etc. In other words, the SRS reflects a clear vision of the expected final result. The more detailed the scope of work is, the less your development team is prone to scope creep and the estimate will be more accurate as a result.

Unfortunately, this type of document is absent in a lot of cases, so the there are usually only two options at the beginning of the project.

The first option is to have your custom software development partner assist you in creating the SRS for the project. Here at CSW Solutions, we call this stage, "The Discovery phase" in which we gather all the key stakeholder notes, and over a span of several meetings, build the software requirements document. Then, we discuss expectations and finalize the idea for the software project.
The second option is to build the document as you go, using the SCRUM development approach, you break the project into 2 week iterations and work on the project in small nuggets. In this type of setting, the project is billed based on time an materials. Using this approach will require that you still have an initial vision for the project and your development team is trusted and reputable. Especially one that has experience working under these conditions.

2. Get Several Estimates

As with any sizable project where you might bring in a third-party for assistance, it is even more important to explore your options by reviewing several different bids or estimates from a variety of sources. Each estimate will likely be different and present an array of different timelines and/or cost estimates. However, the shortest timeline or the cheapest estimate never translates to being the best option.

The right vendor for a project must be chosen, not only based on the type of work you need for your project, but several important criteria in addition to their total estimate.

  • Team size and correlating experience levels
  • Suggested timeline and assumptions
  • Chosen technology stack

3. Use a Team with Relevant Experience

There is no shortage of experienced software development vendors out there and having a vendor you can rely on who is familiar with the type of software project you are building will greatly improve the entire process with less trial and error. A trusted and experienced vendor will provide you with the most realistic estimate since they will have a more thorough understanding of necessary assessments and considerations to be included in the build. If you have also chosen the option of building your requirements as you go, an experienced team will be extremely valuable as they have already been through this type of software project in the past.


4. Know the Risks

All custom software development projects involve risks. Each risk related to the software project must be thoroughly investigated and analyzed. Typically, most software development services teams will include a little bit of a cushion to cover associated risks in their estimates. It is important to have a discussion about any potential risks with your vendor when the estimate is provided.

An example of a risk is third-party systems integration. In this case, you know how you would like the integration to work but after starting the work, you might discover that the software you are trying to integrate with is not producing the expected results or just not performing as expected. A full analysis will have prepared you for this type of risk and alternatives to these results.
graphic of three people discussing software project estimation

5. Review the Non-Functional Requirements

Non-functional Requirements (NFRs) are attributes of a system that define things like security, reliability, performance, maintainability, scalability, and usability. They act as constraints or restrictions on the software application itself.

Nonfunctional requirements, also known as system qualities, are just as important as functional Epics, Capabilities, Features, and Stories. They ensure the overall system's usability and effectiveness.

Unlike functional requirements, which typically outline "what" a system must do, non-functional specifications have a distinct purpose. The non-functional requirements, which describe "how" the system should operate, must be taken into account. Non-functional requirements may fluctuate in level of significance and relevance depending on the type of a project or business. The adoption of non-functional needs may also be influenced by how difficult the implementation will be.


It is no easy task to create a software project estimate based on the time and resources necessary to complete a project. However, if you have a clear vision for what you want your software to do and can provide well-documented requirements, it will be much easier for potential vendors to give you an estimate that is both realistic and accurate. Make sure to ask vendors about their team’s experience with similar software projects, as well as what risks may be associated with the project so you are aware of possible roadblocks upfront. Finally, don’t forget to review the non-functional requirements such as scalability, security, or performance expectations. By following these tips, you should be able to get a realistic estimate for your next software project.


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Yoel Sommer

About the author

Yoel Sommer

Co-founder and a Managing Partner at CSW Solutions. You can find Yoel on LinkedIn and Twitter.



Modern Software Development