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The Million Dollar Question: Will it Cost a Million Dollars?

By: David Mastrella
Published: Wednesday, 25 March 2020

When it comes to Web and Mobile App Development, the first question we almost always hear is, "How Much will this Cost?"

While I know the answer folks HATE to get is, "Well, that depends”, if I'm being totally honest, it really does depend!  Many factors will impact the price and, no matter how well thought out or vetted a project is during the sales process, requirements are bound to change during the early stages of planning and review sessions.

To protect themselves from unknowns, many development firms will provide  a high level estimate based on whatever information is known at this early stage and will then bill you for the hours spent throughout development. Unless a client has a thorough specification document that covers things like features, functionality and APIs at the beginning of this process, it’s nearly impossible to get a truly accurate estimate of what you will have spent when you get to the end.

While this may not be a recipe for disaster, per se, it's surely a recipe for disappointment (not to mention frustration!). Either the project will go well beyond what you have budgeted as the features get more defined or you’ll end up having to cut back on the planned feature set which means delivering less than what your team expected.

Fortunately, there's a better, more transparent approach to budgeting for software development. Let's start by identifying your primary goals upfront and go from there.

What’s most important to you with regards to making this a successful project?  Is it Speed? Is it Features?  Or Is it Cost?

  • Maybe speed is the most important factor because you want to beat competition to the marketplace, you want to show off at an upcoming tradeshow or you want to hit this year’s company goal for improving profitability. Ok, great! Consult with a development team that will work WITH you to identify the minimum viable product (MVP) – meaning the most critical features needed by your target date. Other features can always be added as later phases. In the meantime, you'll have something to show-off to get some excitement generated.
  • Maybe it’s all about the Features of the product so that what you deliver blows away any competition. Work with a development firm that allows you to meet with software engineers that know their stuff. They'll collaborate on offerings and make suggestions to knock it out of the park for you.
  • If, however, you are dreaming of a Tesla system but are limited to a Fiesta budget, that's okay too. Some development firms can get very creative when it comes to getting you the most bang for your buck with enough features to get the attention of potential investors. Flexibility is key here.

Regardless of what your primary driver is, all three factors are important to consider and should be a transparent part of the project scoping effort. Here at Envative, we often talk with folks about the "power of prototyping" to help define requirements before signing off on some elusive budget. Often referred to as wireframing, prototyping should be the first phase of every development effort. This iterative process step brings a vision to life, providing an inexpensive way to get full understanding of what the business needs are, necessary features and most effective way to present them. Based on these newly acquired requirements, an accurate development budget can be established so there are no surprises (and no "difficult conversations") down the road.

I've jumped ahead of myself a little bit. Oftentimes, before you can even start thinking about the "what", "when" or "how", while you're still in the early stages of formulating your custom software wish list, you'd like to get general idea of price, (a "ballpark" estimate, if you will). This is pretty common as you start to evaluate cost/benefit ratios and budget planning strategy (or if its even in the realm of possibility from a cost perspective).

So, to answer the question at the start of this, will it cost a million dollars? No. In fact, most likely your software project will cost a very small fraction of that. Regardless, you can make your approach to establishing an accurate budget for your web or mobile application project by first taking these steps:

If you start with these critical steps, you will be well-positioned to start your development project on the right foot, taking the likelihood of disappointment out of the equation. 

Ready to get started? 

Tagged as: Development Costs

David Mastrella

About the Author:

David Mastrella

David has been immersed in Internet based application design & development for the past 20 years – with total development experience exceeding 30 years. He has held positions ranging from senior developer, systems manager, IT manager and technical consultant for a range of businesses across the country.  David’s strength comes from a deep knowledge of technologies, design, project management skills and his aptitude for applying logical solutions to complex issues.