How many developers do you need for an app?

Working out how much time, effort, resources, and energy a new project will take is always difficult. For software development, one of the most common questions revolves around how many developers it will take to create the app.

Unfortunately, ‘how many developers do you need for an app’ is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ type of question.

Here’s why the question is problematic— and how you can best calculate the team numbers you need.

Common advice

Working out how many developers you need for an app is a common challenge. As such, there’s a lot of advice out there. A lot of which prescribes a set number.

Most advice seems to settle between 5 and 6 developers being necessary to build an app.

…But then, some advice-givers hedge as much as to suggest you need as little as 4 to as many as 10 developers to build an app.

And at the same time, smaller start-ups are often recommended to hire as few as 3 developers to build their app.

So, what’s the answer?

The wide variety in the existing advice does point to the truth. That is, none of this advice is anything more than shooting in the dark.

Maybe for one business, the set number advised ends up being a hit. But it’s more likely to be a miss.

In short: any article giving an exact number of the developers you need is spouting nonsense. Why? Because ‘how many developers do you need for an app’ is a highly contextual question. 

How long is a piece of string?

Some questions don’t have a single correct answer. Some aren’t answerable at all.

How long is a piece of string?

How long will it take?

And indeed, how many developers do I need?

This is because more information is needed before you can even hope to come to a ballpark answer. The answer depends on what kind of app you’re building, for what platforms and devices, with what level of functionality, and so on.

So, are you building:

The bigger the undertaking, the more developers you’re likely to need to maintain a good rate of progress.

Then you need to think about other factors, too. For instance:

And so on.

The more complex the security, the more demanding the development, and the more work there is to be done – the more developers you need.

How to calculate?

It’s all well and good knowing that ‘how many developers do you need for an app’ has no one-size-fits-all answer, but you still need to work out how many developers to onboard.

So, how best do you decide how many developers you need for your product?

First, take time to work out roughly what roles need to be filled, and what skills are needed.

You’ll need at least one back-end developer and at least one front-end developer. You’ll need someone with design skills. If you’re targeting multiple platforms, you’ll need to make sure the developers can create apps for different operating systems or languages. Bigger teams or companies will need a product manager or DevOps specialist to help aid communication.

With the roles/skills outlined, start to create a bare-bones crew of the absolute must-haves. From there, you can work with them to understand the full scope of the work required to complete the project.

This will give you the information you need to add to your crew until you’ve found the optimal mix.

Q: How many developers do you need for an app?

A: It depends.

It’s tempting to search for the easy answer to difficult questions. And ‘how many developers do you need for an app’ is certainly a difficult question.

But don’t be fooled by the advice out there giving a definitive number, a definite answer. There’s no one-size-fits-all.

To work out the number of developers you need, outline the work that needs to be done, and the skills that are required, and build up from there.

Useful links

Software project estimation: handling the dreaded ‘how long will it take?’

What makes for a good MVP?

The wisdom of ‘release early, release often’

Front-end vs back-end: are the lines blurring?