The Three Golden Rules of Software Project Estimation

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If you've ever worked on a software project, you know that estimating how long it will take to complete can be a daunting task. There are so many variables to consider, and even the most experienced software developers can sometimes be off by months or even years. But, there exist three rules of thumb that can help guide you through the treacherous waters of software project estimation.

Rule #1: An estimate of 1 year or above is an underestimate.

Therefore, need to check back again after 6 months.

This is the classic "underpromise" strategy. It's a time-honored tradition in the world of software development, and for good reason. If you tell your client that a project will take a year to complete, and then you finish it in nine months, you'll look like a hero.

Even if you're giving yourself an extra three months of buffer time, there's still a good chance that your estimate is too optimistic. That's why it's important to check back in after six months and see how things are progressing. If you're ahead of schedule, great! If not, you'll have time to course-correct and adjust your timeline accordingly.

Rule #2: 2-3 years, is too risky

Two to three years is a long time in the world of software development. In that time, technologies can change, team members can come and go, and priorities can shift. That's why committing to a project that will take that long is a risky proposition. Sure, you might be able to complete the project on time and on budget, but there are just too many variables to guarantee success.

Instead, it's better to break up large projects into smaller, more manageable chunks. That way, you can adjust your strategy as you go and avoid committing to a timeline that's just too long.

Rule #3: Divide and Conquer

And that brings us to our final rule of thumb: divide and conquer. This is a strategy that has been used by successful software developers for decades. Essentially, it means breaking up a large project into smaller pieces that can be worked on independently. This not only makes the project more manageable but also allows for more flexibility in terms of scheduling and prioritization.

Divide and conquer is also a great way to mitigate risk. By breaking a project up into smaller chunks, you can test your assumptions and adjust your approach as you go. This can help you avoid costly mistakes and ensure that you're on track to meet your deadlines.


In conclusion, software project estimation is an art, not a science. There are no guarantees, but by following these three rules of thumb - underestimating, avoiding long timelines, and dividing and conquering - you can increase your chances of success. And who knows? You might even have some fun along the way!