About once or twice a month I get asked to give a ballpark estimation for a project cost and timeframe, typically for a general business website or a web application with user-generated content. Those requests usually come after a brief conversation that sounds a little bit like this: “Hey man, my company is trying to implement this new piece of software” or “I just came up with this new idea, and it’s the best thing since sliced bread.” And after a 3 to 4 minute conversation that person asks, “So can you give me a ballpark figure of how much this will cost develop?”
Unfortunately, my answer is no, I cannot give a rough estimate or an idea of how much it will cost or how much time it will take without knowing the complete scope of the project. This is just one of many reasons that website project estimates are usually off from the final cost and timeframe of development. Below, I’ll cover a few reasons why your project estimates are not always accurate.
The project is not adequately scoped.
One of the main issues with giving a website project estimation is that the cost and time for development now, in the idea phase of the project, may very well not be the final cost and timeframe of the project after more consideration has been given. Many people become so excited about their idea that they do not take the time to develop a detailed project scope. Without an effective scope, there is no telling what additional costs will add up over time.
The project scope changes.
It is very difficult to simply put a number on a project because sometimes the project scope changes. Many things can and will happen between the initial conversation and the final project delivery. If you begin with a poor scope or realize that you need to make important changes during the development process, then additional costs may pop up or it may take longer to deliver.
Testing time is not accounted for.
Sometimes there is confusion as to when the project is actually “done.” For instance, some may feel the project is done when coding is finished, whereas others feel it is done when it is introduced to users. This miscommunication can cause the time for testing and debugging to be left out of the time estimate. However, this step in the development process is essential. Companies do not want to launch a website or introduce a new piece of software that is not yet tested for market readiness.
Here is what I suggest when someone asks me for a web project estimate after a brief conversation about their ideas. First, I ask them to think about the project in a little more detail. It is vital to have all of the important details written down so that the development team can better understand the scope of the project. If a person does not have this information, then a cost or time estimate is not worth much. Second, I remind them that an estimate is just that – an estimate. Things will happen in the development process that may cause the delivery time or cost of the project to change.