I am often asked to help people estimate the cost of a project they are considering. While each effort will be slightly different depending on the experience and resources of the team, there are some general guidelines that can give you a rough idea.

What do you want to develop?

The first detail you must settle on is the kind of project you want to develop. Will it be a Web or mobile application, or perhaps suit both? Will you need API (application program interface)? Are you looking to develop something to suit IoT (Internet of Things)?

Understanding what you want to develop also includes considering whether there is an electronic component and, if so, who that component is intended for.

You also want to look closely at the resources that are required – both time and experience – to understand bottom line costs.

Are you developing simply for the Web?

Developing for the Web, you are looking at two basic components that can both be the work of a Web designer: screens and a good user experience. Using prebuilt templates to create landing pages can save time and money with respect to both of these. Applications such as Wix, Strikingly and Launchrock are some options. Depending on which you select, you may be looking at costs of less than $20 per month.

Even if you require a more interactive site, there are existing systems and services available such as WordPress (”plugins” will enhance the offering here) or Teachable that may be suitable. Depending on the package you select to meet your needs, you will likely average between $30 to $100 per month.

What about open-source?

Open-source software is another good option if you have technical skills on your team to manage it. With this option, the cost will be in time to deploy and update features and, depending on the complexity, may cost you between $50 to $200 per month to have someone manage.

The challenge with open-source often, is that it doesn’t scale well and a growing company will find quickly that it has reached its limit. If this is a possibility, it may make sense instead to develop a dedicated solution from the start.

A dedicated solution

A general rule of thumb for a dedicated solution is $1,000 per screen. This cost will be allocated between development, design and database conception. You can also expect to add project management costs, if you don’t have the experience to handle this yourself, of roughly 10% to 20% of the overall project cost.

While it might be tempting to skip the project manager or CTO (Chief Technical Officer), remember that time and effort spent depends directly to the precision of instructions. The role of this person is to help define what makes sense and then to communicate those instructions to the team so they are developing specifically what is needed. Considering that every change costs money – both to develop and to deploy – accuracy here is key.

Mobile applications

Mobile applications are more complex than Web-based applications for a few reasons, and so are associated considerations.

A mobile application, in terms of cost, resembles that of a complex Web page so you should budget about $1,000 per page. Although the page itself may be less complex, it requires a back-end (API) that will take a reallocation of time and effort, and money, to develop.

You must also consider which platforms you wish to develop for – Apple or Android – as each has its own native functionality. While React Native does have some inherent native functionality, other design options are more specific.

IoT

Development for IoT is more complex to budget because there can be gaps in the technology. An electronic platform like Raspberry Pi can be great for developing a small prototype, but it is important to understand that you may need to start from scratch as you grow. The cost of the hardware should be less than $100.

Development costs will depend on how complex the software is and should be evaluated in terms of days to complete. If we assume up to $100 a day, factor in the days or weeks you anticipate the work will require, keeping in mind that you will need embedded data and back-end API, and you may be looking at a budget of $50,000.

Quality-in relates directly to quality-out

People who decide to lower their budget costs by outsourcing are often surprised by the result. While it may initially seem that hiring an overseas worker lowers your bottom line, many people find that they end up paying the same, or more, in the end. Sometimes it is a question of quality, other times it is that every detail, every pixel of the concept, must be explained, simply because the frame of reference is different. I highly recommend people consider very specifically what they need and whether the savings they think they will achieve is practical or worth it in the end.

Based on your experience, do these guidelines for costing projects work? If not, tell us below why not. What other factors influence project cost?