How Long Does it Take to Build a Custom App?

Big Fish is a B2B custom app development company with offices in Tampa, Florida.

I’ve written about how much it costs to develop a custom app. But, until now we did not have a post dedicated to answering How long does it take to develop a custom app?”.

So let’s tackle that in detail for you.

What I’m talking about here is an expected timeline when you hire an outside app development company (like Big Fish) to develop your mobile app.

Let’s start with a phase-by-phase breakdown.

Phases of Custom App Development (and how long they take)

Strategic Planning and Discovery (avg. 2 weeks)

Before designing the app, and definitely before writing a line of code, it is imperative that time is allocated to creating the blueprints.

At Big Fish this includes meetings with your company, defining the requirements and creating the technical documentation.

The process takes about 2 weeks. Heavy research, job shadowing and user interviews will require more time; very small projects require less.

This is time well spent and will help guard against a failed project that wasn’t thought out, or from creating an app that no one wants to use. (On that note, please do read our recent post about How to Design Software People Actually Want to Use.)

Design (avg. 2 to 3 weeks)

The first draft of this section included a long explanation about the design process and why it’s important.

But you’re here to find out how long it takes, not the fine details of what happens.

So I did a big highlight and delete to shorten this up and keep us on topic!

In short, during the design phase we will create black and white sketches of each screen in your app. We want to nail down the layout and flow through the app first, before designing the details of each screen.

After your team approves these initial designs we are ready to add detail, color, branding and fine tune things.

By now your app is really coming alive. These app designs look so much like the real thing that they are sometimes used as a proof of concept prototype in order to secure budget for the entire project.

The app design process takes 2 to 3 weeks. For a large project we will recommend designing in small cycles together with development – [design, develop, test, review] [design, develop, test, review] … In either case, 2 to 3 weeks is still a good estimation of time needed to design a version one app.

Development and Testing (4 to 12 weeks)

Once the plans are ready and the designs are approved by your team, we can start writing the code.

Our development team probably started some non-user-interface related code while the designs were in the works. Now that the designs are done the real heavy lifting starts.

The time needed to develop your app is directly related to the complexity of the features and functionality being developed.

In other words, we can build you a dog house in a day or two, but a five bedroom bungalow, that’ll take a few months.

Expect 4 to 12 weeks to develop a version one mobile app. Four weeks for a pretty basic build, longer for a full-featured complex app.

Acceptance Testing and Integration (avg. 2 to 4 weeks)

After we write and thoroughly test the code on our side, your team will want some time with the app as well. We’ll also need ensure it’s properly integrated with your live server environment so it’s ready for beta testing and launch.

As with everything else, the time needed will vary depending on the complexity of the project. Expect 2 to 4 weeks.

So What’s the Grand Total?

Adding up those numbers you can see that the time needed to develop a solid, version one custom mobile app is 3 to 5 months.

If more time is needed we’ll plan a phased released with the most important features in version one. Then build on that in version two, three and beyond. Spending a year in development before you release is not our idea of a wise approach. Your users want it now, after all. And your competitors aren’t waiting for you to catch up.

As you’ll see if you keep reading, the fact that Big Fish is an experienced team that specializes in custom app development means we can get you to market faster. We’re proud of that.

Is your company planning a custom app build? Reach out and request a complimentary consultation with our team.

Final Thoughts

There are a couple factors I’ll draw attention to that will affect how long it takes to develop your custom app.

1. An experienced team of app specialists will complete a project faster.

It’s easy to accept that a more experienced team gets a job done faster.

They’ve done projects like this before. Or even if they haven’t, they have enough experience that they can quickly figure out the unique nuances that may be involved in yours.

Not only that, experience and expertise lends itself to getting really good at something, and that cuts the time spent in a “learning curve”. It also cuts the time spent fixing your own (or someone else’s) mistakes. Experience also creates efficiencies, which results in a finished product sooner.

2. More features takes more time

Naturally, the more complex and involved your application, the more time needed to create it. But you already knew that. 🙂


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Sara MacQueen

Sara MacQueen

Sara MacQueen is the Founder and President of Big Fish. She was named one of "25 Mobile Women to Watch" and has been interviewed by local and national media for her expertise in mobile technology and business.
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