Project Proposals: Finding The Right Development Partner

The last couple of years has brought about many changes in how our society lives and works. One of the most significant is the accelerated timeline of digital transformation. But to adapt to a more digital world, businesses must first select the right technology partner to guide them on their journey. Choosing that partner begins with an exceptional project proposal.

I’ve had the opportunity to sit on both sides of the project proposal process throughout my career — first as a client and now as a vendor. That experience offered me a distinct perspective on what to look for when selecting a technological partner. It also showed me how to provide prospective vendors with everything they need to create a clear and detailed project proposal.

Trust and communication are paramount regardless of which side of the table you’re on. Solid client/vendor partnerships built on trust make navigating the entire process easier. Clear communication results in a concise project proposal that more closely aligns with your project brief. Learning to recognize red flags and targeting specific results helps you avoid pitfalls and achieve the goals that you set for your business.

The Request for Proposal: What to Include

You are in the market for a new software development partner to fill in the gaps of your technical knowledge and help you achieve your business goals. Before reaching out to potential vendors with your request for proposal, you need to ensure you can provide them with the information they need to be successful.

First things first, are you business strong or technology strong?

Focus on your strengths. If you’re business strong, give as much information about the business case, use case, personas, market, industry, etc. However, if your strength lies more on the tech side, be sure to let your potential partner know it. Don’t take a deep dive into technology; simply share the pertinent information and your expectations.

All too often, tech-strong clients focus only on the technology side of things and fail to make sure that their software development partner is familiar with their business. Avoid this mistake, as it may ultimately lead to a product that misses the mark for your customers. Moreover, it may result in loss of business or a complete restart of the project. A good vendor will recognize that you need help communicating and understanding the business side of the equation. They’ll bring in someone who can extract the right information to bring value to the product.

Some essential factors to consider when drafting your project brief or request for proposal (RFP):

  1. Provide as much information as possible about what problem you are trying to solve. If your description is vague or confusing and makes a lot of assumptions, the vendor will struggle to understand your vision.
  2. Pay attention to nomenclature in your descriptions. Make sure you use the same names for products and features throughout the documentation.
  3. If more than one person was involved in drafting the brief, RFP, or requirements documents, proofread for accuracy and clarity before turning it over to the prospective vendor.

Research Your Potential Partner’s Way of Doing Business

When the final draft of your RFP is ready, start researching potential partners. The first step of that process is determining whether a prospective vendor is the right fit for your business.

Start by checking out their marketing and digital presence. As you familiarize yourself with their business, take note of who their current partners are and make sure that they have experience with companies of a similar size to yours.

Gather Information on the type of services and solutions they offer. Do they align with your business and technical needs?

  • Do they tend to work with larger or smaller businesses?
  • Do they have the experience to scale with your business?
  • Do they have experience working on projects like yours?
  • Will they be an end-to-end partner or will they need to bring in outside resources?
  • Do they specialize in a specific business area or industry?
  • Are they certified in any technologies? (Ex: Cloud Architecture, Data Infrastructure, Security Solutions)

Additionally, take into consideration the size and make-up of the vendor’s business.

  • How many employees do they have?
  • What type of development model do they use? Onshore, offshore, or blended?
  • Where is the leadership team located?
  • Have they been growing or have they had to let employees go?

When you start reaching out to potential partners, it’s essential to carefully assess your initial communication with their sales team.

  • Do they talk about themselves the entire time, or do they listen to your needs and ask pertinent questions in response?
  • Do they make suggestions on how to solve problems?
  • Are they knowledgeable about current technology?
  • Do they explain their development processes?
  • Are they upfront about costs? The price for most proposals should be an estimate, and you should expect it to move up or down a small percentage.

Keep an eye out for potential red flags around pricing and cost estimation. If a vendor gives you an exact amount and not a ballpark estimate, you might have a problem further down the line. The same goes if a vendor fails to provide you with enough detail about their pricing.

The Project Proposal: What to Watch Out For

The moment to make a decision has come. You are holding your prospective partner’s Project Proposal in your hands, and your future relationship is mapped out within its pages — time to practice your educated critique and dive into the details of the proposal’s contents.

First and foremost, does the project proposal present well?

Whoever first said not to judge a book by its cover was clearly never handed a poorly crafted project proposal. Remember, a project proposal reflects the work that a vendor says they’ll do. If it’s sloppy, you can bet the work will be too. The proposal should look professional, read well, and be free of grammar and spelling mistakes. Additionally, the layout should be easy to follow.

Second, does the project proposal cover all pertinent information needed to make a vendor selection?

If you’re seeking a vendor for a six or seven-figure project and they present you with a one-page project proposal, carefully put that page down and run to the nearest exit. Simply put, a one-page project proposal is not sufficient to outline what you need to know about that vendor’s capabilities.

If you’re seeking a vendor for a six or seven-figure project and they present you with a one-page project proposal, carefully put that page down and run to the nearest exit. Simply put, a one-page project proposal is not sufficient to outline what you need to know about that vendor’s capabilities.

The right vendor’s proposal accurately explains the problem you’re trying to solve. If they cannot articulate your specific need, they won’t solve your problem. Their proposal should outline exactly how they plan to solve that problem and cite examples of how they’ve tackled similar challenges for other clients. A proposal that only includes vague descriptions of what the vendor will deliver is a red flag.

Lastly, the vendor should include a significant amount of information about themselves in the proposal. Overview, brief history, team structure, bios, and process — all of that should be present somewhere like an appendix. It’s your choice if you want to read it, but they should at least give you the opportunity to do so.

Does the vendor introduce the processes they use in their project proposal?

Being transparent about project management processes is the hallmark of a quality development partner. An ideal vendor should be upfront about how they will interact with your company’s business leaders and stakeholders. They should introduce the approach they will use and give examples of exactly what occurs during each step of their process.

Be mindful of the finer details and seek answers to questions such as:

  • How much time does the vendor plan to work on user experience, design, and functional definition?
  • Do they proactively ask questions?
  • Do they spend time understanding your needs, even before delivering their proposal?

Final Thoughts

Finding a development partner that’s the right fit for your business can be difficult. But there are always clear signs to help with your decision-making process. For your part, conduct the necessary research and convey your needs and business goals to the vendor you decide to approach. Be mindful of the red flags and learn to recognize them by focusing on the finer details. In the end, it is all about working with people you trust and getting the product you want.

Original post found here.

Authored by Jim Cikanek:

Jim is a product management professional with over 20 years of experience in the development of industry-leading software technologies. Jim’s past work has focused on the creation of strategic product plans in the healthcare, transportation logistics, renewable energy, and intelligent traffic systems industries. His passion is developing solution strategies that bring value to customers.

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