Software Development Project - Early Estimating Help


I work for a private investing firm that is looking to move from a face to face business to online business. They want to create a large, scale-able website that can handle thousands of accounts and hundreds of thousands of transactions. They want an upfront general estimate of what this would cost.

On investigating this it seems the general consensus is that it is impossible to accurately estimate this without knowing factors of scope, scheduling, and quality. They are not happy with this answer.

How can I put together an early cost estimate that is someone accurate, and back it up with data I didn't get by throwing a dart at a board and multiplying by $500,000?

Cost Estimation

asked Dec 10 '12 at 07:28
26 points
  • I'd say something like this: "for a large scale project like ours, it will cost about $10,000 - $15,000 to get a quote: we'll hire a business analyst and a software architect and it'll take about 30 days." – Frenchie 8 years ago

5 Answers


You can't.

They want an estimate but they don't want to provide the parameters that let you formulate one.

If they really need a quote, go with your dart board idea, it's as good as any.

Your only other option is to try very hard to sell them on the agile approach. Charge time and materials and let them evolve the project as it goes along. This way they can spend as much as they like. They should prioritise the most important features first and they can stop whenever they want.

answered Dec 10 '12 at 15:05
Joel Friedlaender
5,007 points


There are too many open ended questions to give a sensible answer to this, as you realise.

It could be $50,000 or $10,000,000, or anywhere in between, depending on infrastructure choices, technology choices, lead times, regulatory requirements, quality expectations, etc. Without some guidance on these factors, your dartboard estimate is the best one available.

As an aside, a few thousand customers isn't exactly challenging these days, so at least there are lots of options as far as all the technology goes.

I suspect that this is a common case, so it might be worth investigating the possibility of buying a solution "off the shelf" which can be branded, rather than building from scratch, as that would no doubt be quicker, easier and cheaper.

answered Dec 11 '12 at 02:36
Steve Jones
3,239 points


The businessmen have different brains with technical men. They can't live without numbers. It's hard to continue the conversation if no numbers offered.

May I suggest:

  1. Try to offer a rough number based on similar projects, or their rough acceptable budget as you know, or rough team size with rough months. It could be a number or a range. And tell them this is only a rough estimation with no solid ground and no responsibility. By getting this number as least they will know it probably be tens of thousands but not thousands.
  2. Offer a precise number for initial meetings with all stakeholders. The meetings will discuss viabilities, collect and brainstorm specific requirements, generating user stories, thus provide you solider ground to estimate more precisely. The budget is not big for such meetings and they should be able to accept if serious.
  3. The rest would be typical Agile workflow. Estimate stories, define MVP, plan sprints blah blah.

Just my two cents.

answered Dec 11 '12 at 05:54
Billy Chan
1,179 points


I have given a range before 100,000-1,000,000. Then padded out options in that range. Small, low quality prototype to high quality system with whistles and bells. ... But there is another side, the going back and asking for more money later. When you have convinced the people that hold the purse strings that they have a winner on their hands and so it is worth putting in more money.

answered Jun 18 '13 at 13:14
101 points


This is a difficult position to be in. It is hard to estimate when there is no concrete data. You need to find a way to move this forward and facilitate the conversation.

Here's how I would do it - Create a strawman by assuming what you need to get the estimate - scope, scheduling and quality. State the assumptions clearly. Then present, review and iterate. Everyone ends up with an idea of what the scope is and what is involved in getting the estimate itself.

answered Dec 15 '12 at 05:02
The Megalomaniac
1 point

Your Answer

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • • Bullets
  • 1. Numbers
  • Quote
Not the answer you're looking for? Ask your own question or browse other questions in these topics:

Cost Estimation