Avoiding the trap of averages: Optimizing development timeline estimates

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There are many stages to software development projects. From the initial idea to the final tests, it also includes lots of people involved in designing a new piece of software. As such, there are plenty of factors that could make your software development timeline longer or shorter than planned. 

Developers will often use averages to estimate a project timeline. However, there are a lot of things that aren’t accounted for when using averages. For example, how is your team cohesion? Does your team get along well and work seamlessly together? Does your team know how to manage a remote workforce?

You also need to have a clear goal in mind to ensure your project isn’t delayed by a lack of focus. Ask yourself: does your project stick closely to your goal and solve an identified problem?

Why is an accurate timeline estimate important? 

An accurate timeline estimate for your project will help make implementing or rolling out your new software run smoothly. 

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It will also help your team understand what is realistic in terms of completing the project. It should also help to avoid unnecessary stress. 

Using averages to work out a project timeline can return results, but it can also lead to frustration or confusion within your team. If a project takes a lot longer than estimated, you may end up missing sales deadlines and team morale may suffer.

On the other hand, if your project takes a lot less time than planned, you may be wondering if you’ve missed something. 

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Optimizing your timeline estimates will help to eliminate these problems. 

Here are four ways that you can optimize your estimated timeline for a new software development project. Keep in mind that an optimum timeline isn’t always the shortest. The best timeline will be accurate and give your team enough time to properly finish the project. 

Understand project complexity

Your project will fall into the trap of averages if you don’t consider how complex the software is going to be to develop. 

If your project is ambitious within your sector, you’re likely to need to allow extra time than the average to account for this. 

To look at an example, consider an IoT automation project. You might be looking to build a very simple solution to a household problem, like remote-controlled lighting. Or, you might be building a holistic system for the whole house. 

Both of these projects use IoT automation, but one is clearly going to take longer than the other. 

Some key things to consider with project complexity:

  • Have we done anything like this before?
  • How many people are involved?
  • How much testing is involved? 
  • How many steps are involved in development? 

This way, you can be more specific in your estimates and meet the needs of your project, 

Build in time buffers

One of the ways that businesses set themselves up for missed deadlines is a lack of flexibility. 

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When planning out your project, you need to make sure that you allow time for delays. In order to do this, you’ll need to understand what kind of delays you might encounter. You’ll also want to know roughly how long it will take to solve these problems. 

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For example, let’s say that your project is a business communication solution, ​​what are the channels of communication? Types of delays that you might come across include problems with scaling the software and integrating it with existing software. 

You can work with your sales team, customer service team, and developers to work out potential solutions to future problems. These solutions should include a proposed timeline. This should be realistic to fit with your resources. 

Employee productivity is negatively affected by excessive time pressure. By acknowledging these buffers, you’ll remove another trap that average timelines can result in stress and associated delays. 

Minimize decision-by-committee 

A decision-by-committee kills workplace productivity

While it’s always good to get a second opinion on a major project, you can save yourself a lot of delay on software development by assigning responsibility early. Have every member of your team know what decisions they are making and how. For example: 

  • Have decision-makers in familiar fields
  • Try to balance having everyone feeling involved and arriving at a quick decision 

One of the best ways to do this is through a standup meeting. A standup meeting is a short, snappy meeting with your team. They usually last around 15 minutes and are a great way to make quick decisions about a project. They’re also a great way to avoid other kinds of delay, including delays in email replies and if anyone in your team works part-time. 

Build up step-by-step 

Consider each part of the project from beginning to end. How long should it take on average? Now think about whether that average will work for you. 

Do your engineers have lots of experience? Is your project supplemented with the proper tech industry marketing skills? Is one step falling behind going to stop the entire project? 

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It’s usually easiest to start at the beginning and work towards the end, but you might find that starting with rollout and working backward works better. Whichever way you go, make sure to dedicate some time to know what could potentially extend the project timeline. 

For example, software quality testing might be straightforward if you don’t find any bugs. But if you run into problems, it could add weeks to your project. You could try breaking the project down into stages and estimate a timeline for each one. 

While you’re doing this, you can also work out if any part of the project can be done alongside other parts. Not everything will be one after the other, so you might get a more accurate timeline by accounting for this. 

Next steps

Before planning a timeline for your software development project, you’ll need to do some research and do software testing methodologies into possible pitfalls that could delay the rollout. 

Make sure to involve your design team in estimating your timeline. They should be comfortable with what you decide and confident that they can deliver the project within that time. 

Jenna Bunnell is senior manager, content marketing, at Dialpad.

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