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The Perils of Estimating Development Time
Date 5/23/2008    Tags Development    (0)

In addition to my day job as a .Net developer and my night job as an international spy, I do some work on the side (see my side work company here). Some of this work has been pretty basic website designs, a sites have been much more elaborate database drive web applications (either in or classic ASP).

One thing that I've come quickly to realize is that estimating time is a tough thing to do and can have grave consequences if you don't estimate correctly. Estimate too high and you risk losing the client, estimate too low and you risk losing the client and your sanity.

I learned such a lesson with a client a year or so ago. In my overzealousness to win the client, I made a lowball quote on their site. I should have taken more time to determine just what they wanted to do and factored in time for tweaking things that they wanted to work differently. And then doubled that amount of time.

Simply doing the basic set of features took me far longer to do than I had anticipated, then adding in all the tweaks to how the site looked and worked more than doubled the design time. As if that wasn't bad enough, I let some new features creep in that we hadn't even initially discussed (though I did eventually put my foot down on this).

I would say the site ended up taking about three times as long as I anticipated. Since I quoted a price for the entire thing (and I try to live up to my word), I didn't charge extra for the work. But it wasn't a very good situation for me or the client. I was frustrated and hated working on the site and the client didn't seem happy either on account of the extended development time. Even though the client seemed happy with the final product, there seemed to be some lingering bitterness between us, which isn't ideal when looking for repeat business or referrals.

The most accurate way to do a project would be to charge by the hour. But sometimes I find that the number I throw out for my hourly rate is much more intimidating than giving a cost for the whole project at once. And even if you're doing it hourly, unless you've gotten some very rich clients, they're gonna want some sort of estimate of how long it will take. Go under and they'll be happy, go over and that happiness will go down in relation to every hour your development time goes up.

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