It’s called the triple constraint in project management. Some know it as the iron triangle or the project triangle. Based on our experience, these three things are also the most important factors to consider when building a web app: scope, time, and budget.
There’s usually a lot of moving parts to web development — product features, monetization models, technology stacks, security threats, cloud capacity, go-to-market strategies, and every other ingredient that can help businesses succeed when it comes to their digital strategy.
With such complexity the way it is brought together is by condensing it to the project’s scope, time, and budget. While it sounds overly simplistic, this approach is an effective framework that cuts through the intricacies of a web app project.
In this article, we’ll be going through scope, time, and budget as the three most important factors when developing a web app. This guide is especially helpful for executives, managers, and decision makers in businesses and organizations looking to build and launch their next web-based product.
Being able to understand a product idea or the desired output is one thing, being able to explain to the client all the work and inputs required is another. This is why it’s essential to pin down the project scope for any given web app project. Both the client and the service provider, including web development consultancy or contractor, has to be on the same page on the scope of work.
Larger enterprises can more easily grasp what it takes in creating a web app due to insights and pre-work from their in-house technology teams. However, smaller companies and organizations could potentially underestimate the work required in delivering web apps.
Hence, the project scope documentation has to take into account the production aspect of the product. While both parties can easily visualize the desired output through a wireframe or mockup, the service provider also has to explain (and write down) all the technologies, technical expertise, and approaches to make this happen.
Depending on the complexity of the project, the template and content of the documentation that embody the project scope vary widely.
Here are some of the common sections that a scoping document contains:
- Project objectives
- Product description
- User personas
- Features and functionalities
- Visual artifacts (e.g. wireframes, mockups, workflows)
- Technology stack
- Data requirements
- Methodologies, approaches, and/or frameworks
- Project personnel (both from the client and the contractor) and their responsibilities
Further, the type of document that embodies the project scope can vary depending on the contracting parties. It could be in a stand-alone scoping document, a terms of reference, part of the contract itself, an inception report, a project plan, and many other forms. What matters is that it’s in writing and the content is clear to everyone.
Finalizing a project scope is a two-way conversation. The web development consultants provide options on the most optimal ways to meet the client’s objectives, but they also adapt to the client’s constraints, especially on time and resources.
Be aware of scope creep
When the development phase is already underway, you’ll have to keep tabs on scope creep, which has a direct impact on both time and budget. Scope creep refers to changes in the project scope while project implementation is ongoing.
Particularly for startups or innovative ideas, product development is a dynamic process that requires flexibility and adaptability. Scope creep isn’t ideal, but your project team has to be prepared for reasonable change orders.
However, the more changes you introduce to the scope as the project progresses, the longer and more expensive it becomes. While this is to be expected, particularly for more complex applications, substantive change orders are usually the outcome of poor scoping and planning.
For projects that are straightforward, then the project team has to be disciplined in defining their project scope and following their project plan with some sensible accommodation for change orders. For projects that have sensitive time and cost constraints, the change orders need to be strategic.
Introducing changes to your original product idea isn't always harmful, especially when born out of user feedback and testing. The key is planning well ahead of time, preparing for them, and agreeing on the implications if your project scope needs to expand.
The time it takes to deliver a web app depends on a number of factors, including the budget, which we’ll get to in a while, but it overwhelmingly relies on the scope and its complexity. The more complex a project scope is, the more man-hours or person-hours it requires.
For purposes of discussion and simplification, but based on our experience, we can categorize the scope and complexity of a web app project as follows: a basic web app, a mid-level app, and a complex app.
Based on the agreed upon scope, consulting firms or in-house development teams have enough experience to present a project timeframe, which heavily relies on the amount of person-hours that the project team will render.
If your product involves highly specialized technologies (e.g. LIDAR, augmented reality, the metaverse), you or your contractor may need to seek out professionals who can collaborate with the development team, which will also factor into the time and cost.
Again, while a simplification, the outline below is a reliable reference for a typical project duration with an assumption that the development team will only have two developers. In reality, the more complex a web app is or the faster it needs to be delivered, the project team will require more developers if the client is willing to provision for more financial resources.
- Basic web app: The entire development team (consisting of the skilled project manager, business analyst/s, designer/s, developer/s, QA engineer/s, and other specialists) generally logs an aggregate of 400–800 person-hours. With two developers, the team can deliver a basic web app within 2–3 months.
- Mid-level web app: The entire development team generally logs an aggregate of 800–1,200 hours. With two developers, the team can deliver a mid-level web app within 3–6 months.
- Complex web app: The entire development team typically logs a total of at least 1,200 hours. With two developers, the team can deliver a complex web app within 6–12 months (or more).
|Web application development time|
|Degree of scope complexity||Estimated number of person-hours||Typical duration|
|Basic web app||400–800 hours||2–3 months|
|Mid-level web app||800–1,200 hours||3–6 months|
|Complex web app||1,200+ hours||6–12 months (or more)|
Creating web apps is a tailored service. A cost estimate can only be as precise as the details that the client provides. Oftentimes, clients describe their product vision, then immediately ask how much that would cost.
For a project to succeed, it’s vital to allow the app development consultants to probe further, not only so that they could better understand the client’s goals and requirements, but also allow them to provide technical and strategic options, as well as best practices.
Ultimately, when formulating a budget for a web development project (or any software development project), delivery of a given scope within a given time relies mostly on the number of personnel in the development team and their compensation (again, typically expressed or calculated as person-hours).
In app development, budget and time are always interrelated. Projects tend to be more affordable when there’s no time pressure. The faster a client needs a project delivered, the higher they’ll likely need to spend.
Bigger budgets allow development teams to hire or engage more developers. If a given scope cannot be delivered by a certain number of developers within a certain time period, then they’ll need to either hire more developers or lengthen the time of delivery (i.e. extend the deadline).
Tips on how to better manage the cost of web app development projects
If you’re looking to reduce the potential cost of development, you ought to recognize that some things will have to give. Nevertheless, there are proven strategies to get the bang for your buck when building a web app.
- Agree on a clear and detailed scope of work: Writing down thorough project requirements can help minimize risks and speed up the development process. If you can document your requirements before speaking with an external app development contractor, then do so. If your business doesn't have the in-house competence to do this, then you can request it as part of the contractor’s work. The clearer and more comprehensive the functional and technical requirements are, the more likely the software developers will be able to produce the solution you need within the agreed-upon budget and timeline.
- Choose the right set-up of your web development team: The way you employ your development team has a significant impact on the cost of your project. Businesses today have the luxury of engaging talent from their in-house teams, freelancers, a consulting agency, or an extended team. Each of these have their respective pros and cons.
- Allocate a generous amount of time for quality assurance: Another tip for businesses is to be open to allocating time for quality assurance (QA). Take note that testing shouldn’t be done when development is nearing completion. There will always be issues (technical or otherwise) that come up along the road. Pre-release features, prototypes, and alpha releases may not work as planned. The key here is giving proper time and effort to check, test, and conduct QA runs.
In fact, in some software development projects that deploy nascent and highly innovative technologies, 50% of the timeframe is assigned to testing and quality assurance. While this is a bit extreme, your web development consultants will have the experience to advise you on the optimal allocation for testing. This will help clarify the budget required to deliver a project.
Remember that this phase is often underestimated by companies especially when dealing with new technologies or under the pressure of launch dates.
- Prepare more than one cost estimation: As much as we try to pin down a definitive cost for a contract, some projects can be dynamic and fluid. Because of this, you may want to explore cost contingencies that adapt to changes in scope and timeframes. We’ve seen situations where there would be three or more different estimated scenarios. Rather than be bogged down with negotiations or bargaining later on, we believe that the most effective and trusted web development consultancies are those that offer upfront (and in writing) the adjustments in costs for change orders and when circumstances change.
Managing trade-offs between cost, time, and scope
Just like most projects of any nature, businesses and their web development team also need to manage trade-offs between cost, time, and scope in order to keep it on schedule and within budget.
Here are some of the most common trade-offs in managing the triple constraint in web development, some of which we’ve already alluded to above.
- Time and scope: If you have a short time-to-market or running behind schedule, you’ll need to cut your project scope to speed up project delivery.
- Cost and scope: If you find yourself needing to cut your budget, then you’ll have to reduce the scope of your web application. Conversely, if you need to add on to your scope, then be prepared for a higher cost.
- Cost and time: If you’re suddenly pressed for faster delivery, then the project cost will need to increase.
There are obviously other variables and permutations to issues that may arise before and during project implementation. Nevertheless, these challenges do happen in web development more than you can imagine.
By being aware of the relationships between these triple constraints, both the client and consultant can put measures in place to deliver the best product possible given any limitation or risk that may materialize, especially when the project is already underway.
Work with the right web app development partner
It bears repeating that it’s essential that you pin down and document your scope so that the time and budget can be correctly allocated. Sit down with your in-house and consulting team and define your product as thoroughly as possible.
There will be experts on hand to assist you, including business analysts, product specialists, designers, and developers. They'll help you refine your product concept in sufficient detail in a way that sets up the project execution for success and adapts to risks and changes in circumstances.
Working with the right web app development partner will make this happen. The first sign to look for is how receptive they are in learning more about your product concept. They'll ask the right questions, raise technical and strategic options, and provide recommendations. They’ll assist you in fleshing out your requirements and immediately identify the time and cost requirements.
While the Triple Constraint is a critical dynamic in any web app development project, it doesn’t entirely define its success. However, the right web development partner recognizes that it’s a foundational framework to keep many other factors in check.