For some organisations and sectors, software development might be seen as an expensive luxury; for others, it’s viewed as a fundamental and highly cost-effective part of an overall business strategy.

In any transaction, the price we pay is generally a key factor in determining our perception of value, at least initially – and so, for most businesses thinking of investing in an outsourced software development service, it’s completely understandable that they want to talk first and foremost about software development cost.

The thing is, depending on countless aspects of the specific program, app, company, developer team and schedule in question, pricing can vary wildly. In fact, there are so many potential variables at play for almost any single example you could come up with, trying to give even a ballpark answer to a question as nonspecific as ‘how much does software development cost?’ is nigh-on impossible – even for those of us who’ve done it for years!

Why so complicated?

In many ways, it’s a bit like a chef being asked to quote a price for simply ‘a meal’. Listing average prices for a few popular ingredients would be meaningless – they’d need lots more specific detail to even get close to a useful software development cost projection. How many courses, for how many people? Does the menu already exist, or will it be designed from scratch? Which kitchen staff might be required? Are all the necessary appliances and utensils already there, or would they be brought in? Do samples need to be approved in advance? Where, when and how must the food be served? Who’s doing the washing up?

Software development projects involve direct analogies for most of these questions. Project length and scope, precise app/program function, number of pages, companion mobile apps, the extent of any bespoke design and coding, in-house vs. outsourced elements, development schedules, testing cycles, maintenance and upkeep requirements…the list of factors that can significantly affect costs of software development, in both the short and longer terms, goes on and on.

Unsurprisingly then, there isn’t much value in trying to give a vague estimate for what ‘on average’ software development might cost – in practice, there’s really no such thing. Instead, for those wondering about software development budgets in general, a much more useful approach might be to look at where some of the main software development costs are typically incurred.

software development cost

Scope and size of software/app

Obviously, the size and complexity of the application in question is one of the main issues that will affect pricing. This is partly because it simply takes longer, and/or requires the involvement of more people, to code a greater number of pages and features – and partly because this increased complexity has a knock-on effect right across the rest of the development and delivery schedule. Greater complexity tends to demand more to consider in terms of both creative and structural design elements, more rigorous code inspection and testing processes, and more hands-on maintenance or upkeep needs going forward.

Moreover, ‘complexity’ and ‘size’ in this sort of context can mean many different things: apps that involve many different screens (ie. client click-throughs) will generally be more expensive to develop than smaller ones. That said, a small app that involves a lot of tough coding for complex logic and nuanced behaviours might end up more costly than bigger, more basic ones. A lot of this will also depend on the specific challenges of the coding language(s) or technologies a particular app needs to be written with – which in turn will depend on both what it needs to do, and where/how it’s presented to users.

Compatibility with existing systems

Except in rare cases where the entire IT infrastructure of a client company is being given a top-to-bottom overhaul, newly developed apps typically need to play well with whatever older hardware and software architectures are being used alongside them. Depending on the types of demands this places on the app in development, and how complex the process of coding truly seamless integration is, software development costs may be affected considerably.

Some third-party systems are very easy to integrate and work with (payment providers, for example), while others can be far trickier and more time-consuming at both the building and testing phases. In cases where new apps will be expected to work with existing user data, various migration and storage compatibility issues will also need to be explored carefully, and automated testing processes will likely have to be more robust – this can result in significant additional outlay for time spent on coding, translation and debugging.

custom software development cost

Delivery timelines and development styles

In any transaction, budget is usually closely related to timing. If you need something fast, it will often cost more than the same thing delivered at a more leisurely pace. Then again, something that demands a lot of time to produce is always going to be more expensive than something quick and simple.

This can be a tricky area to budget precisely cost of software development, because it’s not always apparent at the very beginning of a project where the smoother sections or potential sticking points might be. Often this only becomes clear as things progress – which is why some software developers may discuss the potential for different approaches to delivery, particularly when the entirety of a project is being outsourced.

Understandably, many clients prefer a so-called ‘waterfall’ model for most projects, in which every aspect of the planning, scheduling and budgeting is decided up front and flows very sequentially in the more traditional manner.

waterfall software development

However, a more agile approach – typically involving a project being developed in smaller blocks, with each taking as long as required, and phases budgeted/scheduled a segment at a time – can leave far more room for adjustment and troubleshooting, and result in a much smoother and better optimised delivery experience overall.

agile software development

Longer-term costs

Ongoing maintenance is obviously a fairly significant source of potential expense after the initial completion and delivery of any project. When technologies and customer demands change as quickly as they do in the modern business world, it’s an especially relevant topic for discussion when trying to budget around commercial software development.

Important maintenance and support considerations might include issues such as:

cost for software development

This can demand a surprising amount of time and energy, and may have a dramatic impact on total cost of ownership (TCO) depending on the extent to which any of the above can be handled in-house versus outsourcing. It’s always wise to include a discussion of likely TCO impact, even in relatively early conversations about software development cost and budgeting.

Summary: a lot to consider!

As we can see, there really isn’t a simple or straightforward answer to the question ‘how much does software development cost?’ – and this holds true regardless of whether you’re looking for cheap software development for a quick and simple project, or something far more bespoke, ambitious and complex.

You’ll need to consider and discuss a wide range of factors with the development team, including but not limited to:

software development costs

The key to successful outsourcing of a software development team is to know exactly what you want beforehand, and to have a clearly defined budget for it. Of course there will likely need to be some adjustment and compromise on both counts at some stage, but it’s a good place to start the conversation: a skilled development team will be able to put your ideas to the best possible use within the budget you’re allocating.

If you need help in working out exactly what that budget should be, then you’re always welcome to contact us for a free quote and to discuss your vision.