The Hardest Part of Software Development Isn’t Software Development

Armen Stein - Owner of J Street Technology

J Street is always buzzing, just like the hummingbirds in my yard! Here are some things I’ve been thinking about.

President Armen Stein has earned the Microsoft MVP Award every year since 2006. The award is for technical expertise (for Access in Armen’s case) and community involvement.  There are fewer than 40 Access MVPs in the world!

15 Gadgets That Will Prevent Everyday Problems And Make Your Life Easier

Ever think about how many little household problems you simply put up with? You know the ones I’m talking about—things like setting off the smoke detector when you’re just cooking or never being able to find the TV remote.   Read more…

The Hardest Part of Software Development Isn’t Software Development

The hardest part of software development isn’t actually software development – it’s estimating how long the software development will take. Here at J Street, we work on estimated hours instead of fixed bids, so it’s very important that our estimates be as accurate as possible. We don’t want to surprise our client with needing an additional budget halfway through the project!

For years we did “bottom-up” estimates – carefully estimating each component of the system and adding them all up. That was accurate, but the problem was that it took too long – customers didn’t want to pay for all that work upfront. They just wanted a scoping estimate quickly, so they could decide whether or not to proceed with the whole project. So, we started doing an initial discovery phase, which we call our Architectural Framework. It usually takes about 30-80 hours, depending on the features needed.

During the Architectural Framework, we work with our clients to understand what they need. We create three main deliverables: 

  1. In order to make sure we’ve identified all the screens and reports in the system, we build a screen flow diagram.


  1. We build the initial database design and make sure it’s in sync with the screen flow. (i.e. everything in the database should be used in the screens somewhere, and every screen needs to get its data from somewhere in the database.)


  1. Finally, we write a project plan, which lists all the features of the system, and includes estimates.


But how do we build those estimates so quickly? Several years ago we adopted a new estimating technique, using shirt sizes. Instead of agonizing over the estimate for each screen and report, we started using a pre-built grid of shirt sizes. Each shirt size represents a number of hours of requirements, design, coding, testing, etc., and we use standard patterns to choose which shirt size to use. A simple lookup table admin screen? Small. A list screen with multiple search criteria? Large. There are only about eight sizes to choose from, and they increase exponentially (an XS is only about 4 hours, while an XXL is over a hundred.) This process goes quickly, and even more importantly, our designers can do a pretty good job of estimating without taking up a lot of our programmers’ time.

We’ve had great success with this Architectural Framework approach. It allows us to quickly determine the features of a new system and produce accurate estimates. Our clients love that they can get a scoping estimate, enabling a go/no go decision, with a relatively modest budget. And we’ve seen that while individual shirt size estimates will be high or low, the total estimate is very accurate and slightly conservative. We almost always meet or beat our estimate when the scope of the project doesn’t increase.

Contact us for a free consultation – we’re here to help you receive an accurate estimate!

Commercial Brokers Association

Client Testimonial – Commercial Brokers Association

Wow. It’s so rewarding to get a testimonial like this! We love working with you too, Mary!

“If you have the chance to work with Armen Stein and the amazing folks at J Street Technology, stop thinking about it and just do it! You won’t regret your decision.

The Commercial Brokers Association has worked with Armen and his amazing team of application developers on numerous engagements over the past eight years. Each and every time they have treated us as true partners and delivered a superior product.

Aside from the fact that they are great developers who know their stuff, perhaps the most important strength of the team is their listening and communications skills. They take the time to map out the full scope of work from soup to nuts, make sure they fully understand the product, the end-user, and our requirements, then come back to us with suggestions for improvements that we haven’t even considered.

The whole J Street team is simply stellar; they are approachable, organized, think critically, and produce excellent work. They are always open to receiving constructive feedback — and then deliver on what we’ve asked for in an elegant and thoughtful way.”

Mary Lyell Larsen
SVP, Research, and Customer Service
Commercial Brokers Association

Share this post

Related Articles

Off By A Zero

Off By A Zero

When you go shopping for a car or TV, you probably know about how much it’s going to cost. For example, if you walk around

Read More »