Death, Taxes and Software Estimations

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Death, Taxes and Software Estimations

Death, Taxes and Software Estimations

Let’s talk about software estimations. In other words, that oh so common question…

How long will it take to develop our mobile app, and what will it cost?

Earlier this week the Tampa Bay Agile meetup group hosted a presentation and workshop by the same title as this blog post. Clever isn’t it? Sorry, I can’t take credit.

To my [great] disappointment I couldn’t make it to the meetup… fortunately one of Big Fish’s developers was already on it and brought back all the details.

First, I get it. I understand why your company is asking for the estimate up front. I would too. And it means you are interested in teaming up with us to bring your app to life. That makes me happy.

Here’s where estimations get especially tricky – when they are given before we have a very thorough understanding of your project.

Yes, I can give a range; but the most accurate estimations will come after our Discovery process. Discovery is the first phase of creating your app.

It is as essential to developing software as blueprints are to building a house.

Back to the Tampa Bay Agile meetup

Attendees were given an exercise to complete in small groups.

Each group was asked: how long will it take to paint this room?

If asked to provide a quick estimate you could look around the room, calculate a rough square footage in your head, and based on past experience painting rooms, come up with a time frame.

It looks easy enough. So you give your estimate. Let’s say “10 hours” (it’s a very large meeting room).

Picturing this as a client and service provider relationship, they call you back a week later and hire you to paint the meeting room. When you arrive with your paint you take a closer look at the walls…and see wall paper.

You: “Do you need this wall paper removed before I paint?”

Client: “Yes, of course. The ceilings also need to be painted. I’ll be back in 10 hours.”

You, thinking: Damn…

Fortunately, the groups at the meetup were given time for their own Discovery and able to ask questions such as:

  • Do we need to tape around all the windows and doors?
  • How many coats of paint will the walls need?
  • Do the ceilings or floors need to be painted?
  • Are there any cracks that need to be patched?
  • Is there wall paper to remove?

It’s amazing how much one “small” detail can change so much.


The moral of this blog post:

  • Discovery is imperative to provide the most accurate estimates
  • Don’t cling too close to estimates given before discovery
  • Fall in love with discovery. Require it, ask for it, don’t gloss over it or try to avoid it in favor of a faster answer.



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