At some point you might realize that the software you use in your company isn’t working as well as it once did. One option is to simply buy a new solution, but what if it doesn’t have the features you need or you want a product created from scratch?
If you don’t have the time, staff, or skills to build it yourself, then you will have probably started to think about asking a software development company to create an app or other type of custom software for you. But which one? There are so many software companies to choose from thanks to the power of the internet nowadays. No matter what niche specialists you require, you will be able to find a vendor with exactly the experts you need and who can prove that they know exactly how to turn your project idea into a fully-fledged product. But that means the number of companies to which you can reach out can quickly make your head spin, even if you limit your choices only to your country or continent.
Here is where a well-written Request for Proposal (RFP) can help you out. With one, you can more easily find the most fitting software development company for your needs without feeling overwhelmed or wasting time on dozens of interviews.
Are you planning to write an RFP for your new project but are unsure about what you should include in it? If the answer is “yes”, then you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll talk about what exactly a Request for Proposal document is and why software development companies so often ask for one. Finally, we’ll provide you with guidelines for writing a Request for Proposal and what you should include in order to get a quick response from companies.
What is a Request for Proposal?
An RFP is a document with detailed information on your project and expectations that you send to potential software development partners. The length of it can vary wildly - it might only be a couple of paragraphs if the project is supposed to be short or several pages for complex ones, such as creating custom software.
After reading through your RFP file, the software development company should know enough to decide whether they have the technology, available developers, skills, and time to handle your project. If they do, they will reply to you with their proposal for how they plan to tackle the project (together with all technical details) and roughly how much it will cost.
The entire process usually goes like this:
1. You send your Request for Proposal file to a few selected vendors to find out whether or not they can match your requirements.
2. If a chosen company is interested in your project, they will usually ask some questions to learn more about your needs and expectations so that they can tailor their offer.
3. The software development company will then send you their proposal. It will often include the technology they are planning to use, the suggested team members (along with their resumes), and initial cost estimates. Companies might also suggest which project model (Time and Material of Fixed billing) would be the best fit for you.
4. Once you have collected offers from different vendors, you can compare their experience, skills, and approaches to your project. Once you’ve narrowed down your options to two or three potential software development companies, you’ll probably want to schedule a meeting with them to gain a better understanding of how they plan to manage your project.
5. Once you have found the most fitting company based both on their proposals and personal meetings, all that remains is to negotiate the terms (deliverables, deadlines, and budget) and sign a contract with the company.
Why do I need to create a Request for Proposal?
The main goal of writing and sending an RFP? To find out more about the software development companies you have identified as potential partners so that you can compare their offers and pick the one that has the experience and skills that best match your project’s needs. But a clearly written Request for Proposal document can also save you a lot of time. You won’t have to talk with a dozen companies simultaneously and answer hundreds of questions (most of which are probably repeated), as everything is included in your document.
Such a document also clarifies details about the development companies - if they don’t have the required technology, enough time to handle your project, or staff with the skills you need then they will simply answer that they can’t take up your project. You won’t be wasting time talking with developers who aren’t a good fit for your project, and they will also know straight away whether or not they can take up your project. But that’s just one of the reasons why you should have an RFP document prepared - there are far more.
What are the other benefits of creating a Request for Proposal?
1. Ensures you and your partner are on the same page
When asked for an opinion on a project without a detailed RFP, companies might only give you a general overview of what they can do without getting into the technical details. That means you (and they) only have a vague idea about how the cooperation might look like.
When handed a Request for Proposal document, though, the developers have almost all of the information they need about the project straight away. Besides being able to estimate realistically if the project is doable in the given time and budget, they might also bring to your attention potential problems that may arise during its completion or suggest a different approach to a certain task to what you had in mind.
2. Easier to compare several offers
As the offers from different companies can come in various shapes, sizes, and styles, sorting out the information so that you can make a comparison might really be a daunting task.
For responding to an RFP, though, there’s a clear reply format. Having all the information provided by the various developers side-by-side will make it much easier to analyze and compare their different proposals.
3. No risk of getting subjective proposals
It can sometimes happen that during your first contact with a development company they will try to steer your attention towards areas they are great at rather than responding to your questions - especially if the project guidelines you give them are vague. As a result, you might learn during the meeting that they don’t have the experience or staff you need!
A Request for Proposal document clarifies your expectations, goals, and how you will score each of the vendors. They then have to respond with a tailored offer, so you’ll know straight away how the developers’ capabilities align (or not) with your project’s needs.
4. Clear and transparent budget requirements
While it doesn’t happen often (at least not with reputable companies), many businesses still fear that IT companies might try to charge more than normal for their services if there’s a budget range mentioned in the proposal. But it’s usually the opposite - with all the information included in a Request for Proposal document, software companies can roughly estimate the project’s costs and decide whether or not the stated budget is realistic. And as the companies know that the price will be one of your selection criteria, they aren’t likely to price up their services.
Whereas with only vague information about your project and requirements, IT companies can only give you a general idea of their pricing - and the real cost of your project might turn out to be much, much higher once they find out the complete scope of the project.
Key points to be used in a Request for Proposal
As you can see now, the benefits of handing an RFP to your future software development partners are pretty obvious. Writing one from scratch might feel like an arduous task though, especially the first time you reach out to software development companies. So, to make it a bit easier for you, we’ve created a list of key points that your Request for Proposal should include.
1. Introduction and overview of your project - in the introductory paragraph, you should include helpful information about your business, such as a description of your industry and brand, the products/services you offer, your company values, and what sets you apart from the competition.
2. Project goals and target audience - next, you’ll want to outline what the project is about, what your main goals are, and what problems you want to solve with your new product. It’s also a good place to mention who exactly will use the product, as this will help the software companies think of ways to tailor the user experience to that exact group. You should be as specific as possible here but without going into tiny details.
3. Technical requirements - here you should describe your requirements for the project together with your “must-haves”: SEO requirements, necessary third-party integrations, tools, and platform support, the test environment, etc. If you need someone who knows a specific programming language or is familiar with a particular technology, you should also mention it here.
4. Timeframes - add key dates that any software development company interested in responding to your RFP should know, from how much time they have to send you their offers to when they can expect your final decision. The more complex your project is, the more time you should give them to respond. If you know, it would also be good to add when you want the project to start and when you want to have the final product made by, with the addition that you are open to suggestions.
5. Budget - most software development companies want to know how much you can pay for their services before they reach out to you. If you don’t share your actual budget or mention an approximate range, the companies might suspect you are simply looking for the cheapest offer possible or that your actual budget is unrealistic. As a result, they may not treat you seriously.
6. Selection criteria - for this section, state clearly what criteria you will use to select the best offer out of the responses - experience in a similar industry, expertise and technical skills, cost within your price range, and/or proven successful track record, etc.
7. Submission requirements - to let the vendors know what you expect to receive together with their proposal, add a checklist of documents that they should include: team members’ resumes, testimonials from previous clients, case studies, etc. It’s also where you should put information about what format and through which channel the proposal should be sent, and you can also add contact data for the person or people responsible for the selection.
This might seem like a long list of things to include, but the more detailed your RFP is, the easier it will be for the software houses to tailor their offers to your expectations. Moreover, sending a thorough and detailed Request for Proposal to the software development companies you are thinking about partnering with shows you are taking both the project and their time seriously.
Don’t forget about proofreading your document before sending it to the developers as well. Besides looking for any spelling or grammatical errors in the text, it would also be good to check if some sentences can be reworded for clarity. If you have trouble with defining some aspects of the project (such as the timeframe), a reputable software development company will help you specify them.
There’s no “foolproof” template for writing an RFP for software development companies, especially not when every company is looking for something different. With our guidelines, it should be easier for you to write a proposal that will suit your needs and expectations. Our last tip would be to ask people from your own development team what they think your project needs and create a Request for Proposal around their responses. Because if you don’t know what you need, how can you expect a software developer to?
But if you know what you are doing, then writing an RFP can be a pretty straightforward task. All you need to remember is to make it clear in the document what your main priorities for the product are and give the contacted software development companies enough context and technical details for them to understand what you are looking for. Don’t send too many RFP’s either - it would be best to just pick 3-5 software development companies that already seem like a good fit for your project.