Answering Question: How Long Does It Take to Develop Software with Problems and Pitfalls that Stall-Out Projects?

When it comes to software development, instead of first asking, “How long does it take to develop software?” start with the solutions in mind. Make a list of the deliverables you want to have at the end of the software project development, and then conduct extensive research of any solutions that already exist. The purpose of this research is to see if the software that creates the results you want already was developed by others, in whole or in part.

There is no need to repeat the software development work if a software solution exits that can be repurposed for your needs. For example, working with open source code software to modify it with customizations is far easier than developing a full software program from scratch.

Consider any software as a service (SaaS) solutions, which are offered on the cloud, as a way to achieve your goals. It is advantageous if you can use cloud services to satisfy your needs. You will get the benefits of the software that other developers maintain. You can subscribe to SaaS solutions and then use them without any need to constantly update and upgrade. Others maintain the coding of the software to make it more robust and efficient.

Service Solutions which are Offered on the Cloud

Many software development projects can be undertaken by assembling the SaaS offerings needed and then writing the software code to connect the modules to allow them to work together. It is something to consider when thinking about custom software development.

Understanding How Long Does it Take to Develop Software

Before we get into the discussion of how long it takes to develop software, we need to understand the different types of software.

What is software?

There are three broad categories of software that operate on different levels.

Types of Software

  1. System Software: This is the software that runs the operating system of the device where it is installed. Examples of system software are Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
  2. Programming Language Software:This is software is used by programmers to create software programs. Examples of programming language software are C, C++, Java, HTML, Perl, PHP, Python, and Visual Basic.
  3. Application Software: This is software that users access to do things. It can be installed on a device such as a tablet, PC, or Mac. It can be downloaded as an app to use on a smartphone. It can be accessed on the web through a browser such as Chrome, Firefox, MS Edge, or Safari. It can function from a cloud service as a SaaS when stored on cloud-computers in a data center. Examples of application software include MS Office, Photoshop, iTunes, and Windows Media Player. This category also includes games, database software like SQL, and utilities such as antivirus software.

Enjoy this video, produced by Jared Owen, which gives an overview of how software is made.

After analyzing the off-the-shelf software, SaaS offerings, open-source code, and finding everything lacking, you may want to create a custom software development project to achieve your goals and satisfy your specific needs.

How long does it take to develop software?

The answer is project-specific. This is like asking, “How long does it take to build a house?” Are we talking about a cabin or a 50,000 square-foot luxury mansion?

Project Specific

Developing a new operating system or a programming language may take many years, have a team of hundreds of software developers, and cost millions of dollars. However, the vast majority of custom application software development projects take three months to nine months to complete, with a cost of $40,000 to $250,000.

The goal for application software is to build the software to be tested and released within nine months. Anything that takes longer than this makes the client/upper management nervous. A multi-year software-development project to build a customized application may end in disaster because the technology changes so dramatically over such a long timeframe.

The Seven Steps for the Custom Application Software Development Process

A custom software development process can be broken into seven steps identified by Relevant to estimate a project’s duration.

Here is a video produced by Destin Learning, which answers the question – What are the steps of the software development lifecycle?

Here is a detailed description of each step and its average duration:

Step 1: Planning

The planning should be thorough and written down in meticulous detail. Planning is the core foundation of software development.

Duration: For this phase, allow one to two months.

Planning Phase

During the planning phase the following occurs:

  • Determine the scope of the project.
  • Define the means and methods that the project meets strategic business objectives.
  • Identify available project resources.
  • Work with cost estimates to create a project budget.
  • Determine the project timeline.
  • List the project deliverables and how they will be measured.
  • Create contingency plans for potential challenges.

The project does not begin until after the plan is completely organized and approved. It helps if a third-party (unrelated to the project or team) expert consultant is hired to review the plan. This expert looks for gaps and problems in the planning that can be resolved before the project starts.

Any project benefits from thorough planning while having enough flexibility to overcome any unexpected challenges. Manage the project’s timelines using a tracking tool, such as Gantt chart maker.

Step 2: Requirements Analysis

The requirement analysis phase follows planning. During the requirement analysis, the project’s details are defined, and the project’s feasibility is examined.

Duration: For this phase, allow one month.

Defining Project's Details

In this phase, the software development team gains a deep understanding of the project’s goals and all the requirements to meet those goals. Risks are identified and addressed with risk mitigation strategies integrated into the planning from the project’s beginning.

Feasibility analysis includes a review of all the technical and financial aspects of the project. With the project team’s involvement, estimates are made to determine the budget and time required for the total project. A calculation is made for the return on investment (ROI) using the total estimate of the project cost and the cost savings and/ or increased profits derived from the project’s implementation.

If the work is outsourced, the requirements analysis is used to create the software development contract. The requirements analysis is used to create a project outline if the work is done in-house. Project documentation that is detailed and clear ensures the development team understands what is required.

Project Document's Insides

This written project document includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Scope of the Development: This is a clear statement of the scope of the project and its deliverables. The project specifications must be very detailed to avoid any misunderstanding. Describe the procedure for making a change to the project’s scope. A project change must be delineated in writing, along with the impact that the change will have on the project’s time-to-complete and its cost.
  • Project Timeline and Cost: This states the development project’s phases, the milestones, and the deadlines.
  • Acceptance Testing: Acceptance testing is done at the end of each development phase. Define the testing by who does it, how long it takes, and what will be considered a positive result.
  • IP Ownership: If any part of the project is outsourced or outside consultants are used, be sure to have a confidentiality agreement in place before the work starts. This agreement assigns the full legal ownership of all IP to the company funding the project.

Step 3: Design and Architecture

During this phase, design the actual conceptual solutions and detailed software architecture to meet project requirements.

Duration: For this phase, allow one month.

Design Benefits

Define workflows, standards, and database structures. Visual modeling is used to show the software functionality, hardware components, capabilities, and business processes. The entirety of the project structure is built to create a prototype/mockup used as a guide for the following phases.

Step 4: Development and Coding

In this phase, the design documentation and prototype from Step 3 are followed by the developers to write software code.

Duration: For this phase, allow four to six months.

Developer is Coding

This is the hard work portion of software development. The project manager guides the team to stay on time and budget with tracking tools. The project manager makes sure the software code meets the project’s requirements. The project advances through the preliminary testing stages of alpha and beta to the first release version.

Step 5: Testing

Testing starts after the full architecture and complete functionality are built.

Duration: For this phase, allow one to two months.

Finding Bugs

Software engineers conduct quality assurance efforts by testing frameworks with continuous integration, unit tests, automatic compilation, and re-testing. The testing evaluates functionality, system integration, interoperability, user experience, and acceptance. Verification of performance functions and the validation of meeting project criteria are tested to ensure successful project completion. Software bugs are discovered, and, hopefully, all serious ones are eliminated.

Step 6: Implementation and Deployment

During this phase, the software is installed and deployed to real-world use.

Duration: For this phase, allow one month.

Getting Ready for Deployment

The new software application is moved from a test environment to a production environment to work with real data. A project’s complexity determines if the release is staged or if the software is fully released. In practical deployment, users and system analysts evaluate the application and report any bugs that they discover for improvement in a subsequent version.

Step 7: Maintenance

This is the final stage of the software development cycle, which is open-ended.

Duration: This phase is ongoing for the software’s full life-cycle.

Maintenance — An Open-Ended Stage

Over the application software’s life-cycle, it continues to be improved, fine-tuned, enhanced, and upgraded to new versions with more capabilities. The changes made are usually based on end-user comments and requests. An application’s ability to remain robust comes from consistent upgrades of its functionality with new capabilities according to the users’ requirements.

The length of the full software development cycle and the frequencies of software upgrades vary depending on the end-users needs and the software’s viability for meeting those needs. Better software upgrades are enabled by detailed software code documentation created by the development team when they write the original code.

Additional Factors

Some other considerations can affect the software development project’s duration. Successfully managing a software development project depends on a project manager’s ability to keep the development team intact and in alignment with the project goals. The project manager also needs to deal effectively with personnel issues, work disruptions, and outsourcing issues.

Here are some common issues:

Personnel Problems

Loss of any key personnel for any reason (illness, death, termination, etc.) can be devastating to a software project in the midst of development. Part of the extensive planning process includes making a contingency plan for this type of event.

Employee Dismissal

Personnel conflicts may cause more subtle difficulty. If co-workers do not get along, they can intentionally or unintentionally cause inter-operational conflicts in the software coding by not following compatible software development protocols. This problem might result in a very “buggy” software program and does not work properly.

Debugging poorly written software code often takes longer than writing clean code in the first place. Strong project leadership and frequently-staged testing with actionable feedback suggestions given by a team leader can help avoid these problems.

Work Disruptions

Some work disruptions are unavoidable, such as those caused by a natural disaster.

Natural Disaster

To avoid this trouble, maintain triple redundancy of real-time backups. Store these data files in off-site locations, which are located in geographically-dispersed areas. This helps ensure that none of the work-in-progress is lost and can be continued from another location if necessary.


Outsourcing a software development project to a foreign nation, such as India or China, makes everything created in those countries vulnerable. Although copyright laws exist in those countries, their enforcement is nearly zero.

Outsourcing Advice

Unless there is very clear planning and documentation, misunderstandings can be a source of delays. Use caution when outsourcing a project involving critical IP.

Tips for Aspiring Software Developers

Does the thought of becoming a software developer excite you? If you want to learn the fastest way to become a software developer, watch this video by Imtiaz Ahamd to get some tips on getting started.


Now you know the answer to the question – How long does it take to develop software? Software development is useful in all industry sectors. Moreover, it continues to be an exciting field for professionals to enter, with many high-paying jobs. If you are still learning software development, take a look at my recommendations for the best front-end web development courses. There are online courses you can take to gain coding knowledge and get certifications to advance your career.

My Digital Path Team/ author of the article

Members of our team have more than 25 combined years of experience in IT. They have been educators, held various positions in the IT industry, and enjoy helping students learn more about this exciting field.

Some of our team members do not have a university degree because they are self-taught. They just wanted to learn how to code, which is possible by taking certificate programs instead.

Any courses and university programs that we review already meet our high qualifications to be included in our evaluation programs so that students can have confidence in selecting from the reviewed courses and programs which are most appropriate for their career advancement.

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