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What Makes Software Development Expensive & Unpredictable?

by Victor Purolnik
What Makes Software Development Expensive & Unpredictable

Have you been wondering what brings about the price disparity between software projects? Are you wondering why some have a hypercar’s price tag while others resemble a used Volkswagen’s cost? Today’s article explores the factors that affect the cost of software and what brings about unpredictability in its development.

The Misunderstanding

Let us first explore the the biggest misunderstanding in software development which is that an application’s complexity, directly correlates with its number of features.


Surprisingly, a software solution with a singular function can demand more developmental resources, than a comprehensive toolkit filled with a wide array of features.

Take Google Search for example—a platform characterized by its minimalist design – It’s just a search text box, with a ‘search’ button next to it right,  yet it’s had the biggest development teams working on it constantly for years now.

This means that even though something is easy for someone to use, it can be very complicated and require a lot of skill to make it that way.

Next, let us take a look at some of the factors that affect the cost of software and its unpredictability and complexity.

Specialized Technology

The level of technology needed to power an app will  affect the complexity of building it

Whether it’s the deployment of blockchain, big data, or the finesse we are seeing today with custom machine learning models. Each of these sections requires highly skilled engineers and hence the entire cost of that project and complexity goes up.

There are also all the things needed to achieve quality assurance and compliance, especially when financial transactions are involved—where you cannot make a mistake.

Research-Driven Development

Every software development project is like a voyage into unexplored waters, this demands research, and learning while building out the code. This is particularly the case in machine learning or the modernization of legacy systems.

These software projects are filled with a lot of trial and error, requiring developers, product managers, and the entire team to adopt a mindset geared toward iteration and flexibility.

These projects require a lot of integrations, which come with challenges and unpredictable outcomes of working with or around legacy code. This can often be a nightmare without proper research, especially for the developers, who feel like they’re navigating a city without a map.

Research-heavy development projects will require more costs than simpler apps.

Time-Consuming Endeavors

The next factor is time – certain features can be more time-consuming than others due to their custom nature.

Implementing features like social integration, gamification, or automated onboarding presents a different set of challenges, emphasizing the amount of work over the complexity.

In the same case, there is also scalability. The complexity of software will grow or scale with the user base, requiring significant backend engineering efforts that are invisible to the end-user but critical to the application’s success.

You can now start to see a clear picture and pattern. In the beginning, your software is only being used by, or built to be used by 20 people.

Then that number grows, demanding more capability from the software itself, hence more resources.

Can these costs and complexity issues be managed? Yes!

Complexity and even time factors can be reduced by having good communication with your development team – understanding from them where they see complexity and hurdles, and then taking steps to mitigate these early in the software project project

The Role of Communication and Leadership

Whether it comes from you as a founder, product lead, or tech lead, the essence of navigating the complexities and costs of software development lies in effective communication and leadership.

If you’ve got a good way to understand your developers’ estimates and mitigate any issues early, while accounting for scalability you’re well on your way to making the whole project much more cost-effective both in the short term and in the long run.

For organizations lacking the requisite technical leadership, the insight of a Fractional Chief Technology Officer (CTO) can be a game-changer.

Their objective and independent perspective are invaluable for making informed decisions, managing complexities, and aligning development efforts with broader business goals.

There will always be a lot of ‘unknowns’ at the beginning of every project. When it comes to software, these extend far beyond the surface-level features of an application. From the deceptive simplicity of user interfaces to the strategic challenges of scalability and beyond, a deep understanding of these elements is crucial.

Proactive risk management, and strategic leadership, will always go a long way to a more cost-effective and less complex software project, enabling organizations to translate their visions into reality.

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Victor Purolnik

Trustshoring Founder

Author, speaker, and podcast host with 10 years of experience building and managing remote product teams. Graduated in computer science and engineering management. Has helped over 300 startups and scaleups launch, raise, scale, and exit.

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