Getting Past the Sales Pitch

Four Questions A Software Project Proposal Should Answer

ANAND KRISHNAN
Managing Partner, ThinkBridge

C

hoosing the right software development firm for a project can be challenging. Whether you are an experienced IT manager or the CEO of a start-up, getting this decision right is paramount to the success of your business. Discovery meetings with vendors are often filled with sales teams focused on closing the deal and are too quick to reply “yes, we can do that” without helping you understand the actual work involved with your project.

These sales pitches are designed to inspire confidence and optimism, but the most accurate representation of the vendors’ ability to understand and meet your requirements will be reflected in the project proposal they submit.

When evaluating a vendor’s project proposal, here are some key questions to consider:

Do they understand the project?
A professional proposal should begin with an accurate summary of your business and the details of the project as discussed during discovery meetings. This information should all sound familiar, and if accurate, will demonstrate that the vendor listened to your needs. More importantly, you will know that they know exactly what this project intends to accomplish.

What is their proposed project timeline?
Next the proposal should address the project scope. This section should explain how the vendor intends to complete the project. In most cases, projects are broken down into parts. The vendor should provide a comprehensive schedule of deliverables that includes time for review and approval as each part is completed. Think of this schedule as the means to hold the vendor accountable for their work.

If you don’t have the technical background to challenge time estimates, get an expert to advise you or ask them if they have comparable development projects that serve as a basis for that estimate.

As the client, you should question any aspect of this schedule that doesn’t feel correct. Many companies brand their on-boarding process as a way to further monetize the process, which could lead to protracted project launch phases. Why, for example, has the vendor allotted 3 months for project planning?

What are their proposed deliverables?
Pay attention to how the schedule lays out the deliverables. Deliverables are working, usable parts of your project. Ideally there will be deliverables scheduled at regular intervals throughout the project. This approach is beneficial to you, as it solidifies a set of milestones throughout the project that the vendor must adhere to.

Examples of Project Deliverables

Process Related

  • Business case
  • Project budget
  • Schedule
  • Statement of work

Product Related

  • Registration portal
  • Dashboard
  • App with basic functionality
  • Minimum viable product (MVP)

If, however, you review a proposal where the vendor has backloaded most of the major deliverables, it is important you question their reasoning. Backloading removes the opportunity to set significant milestones throughout the project, and can lead to delays in project completion.

How do they hold themselves accountable?
The proposal should also spell out the vendor’s method for transparency and communication. Do they use project management software that gives you visibility into the specific issues being worked on, who’s working on them and for how long? By negotiating for this kind of access, you will add an additional layer of accountability to the process.

Popular Project Management Software Options

jira

JIRA by Atlassian is one of the most popular and comprehensive project management tools on the market, and is a leading software development app for agile developers. Licensing is very affordable up to 10 users, then makes a significant jump in cost if you need 11 or more.

basecamp

Basecamp is another popular web-based project management tool that began as the very first Ruby on Rails app. Basecamp charges a flat fee for business, regardless of the number of users. It integrates with a variety of other applications and services.

googlesheets

Google Sheets offers a free template for more cost-conscious organizations. Simply set up a Google account and invite other users to contribute. Functionality is limited, but works fine for SME’s looking for the ability to centralize issue tracking.

In addition to monitoring your outsourced team’s progress, holding regular stand-up meetings, either in person or over the phone, is essential to keeping the project on track. The proposal should include how often they propose holding progress meetings. Additionally, it is a good idea to establish a single contact within the vendor’s team (typically the project manager) with whom you can speak to about any issue related to the project outside of any scheduled meetings.

Conclusion
In the outsourced software development world, we often hear stories about vendors who promise the world only to double the timeline and budget six months down the line. This puts you, as the decision maker, in a difficult position: either stay the course with an unscrupulous vendor or put the progress and money invested so far at risk by switching development teams.

This sunk cost fallacy can ruin annual budgets or even companies themselves. You can avoid these situations by being an active participant in the proposal process. The most important thing to remember is that you are in charge. Vendors will offer their terms, but its up to you to make sure your needs and requirements are satisfied.

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