Writing a RFP is a pretty basic part of contracting out software design work, but it’s also incredibly easy to dig yourself into a hole when you don’t have a clear idea of what you want.
Much of the time a RFP is really just a wish-list, and this is understandable because the companies who have the expertise to do the work themselves (and really understand the scope and goals of the project) often handle it internally. When a Software Development company places a bid on your RFP, they have to make some critical decisions that make it nearly impossible for you to compare apples to apples.
The contractors say to themselves, ”Do I estimate the cost of all of the features, or just the cost-effective ones?” Providing a total for the whole wish-list means a huge price tag and sticker-shock, but dropping features is dangerous without knowing what is important to the client. Or, do I try to estimate everything piecemeal, which often results either in a complex proposal or an inaccurate one? Since different contractors will shoot for different budgets and different interpretations of what the client values, it becomes very difficult for the client to choose the best proposal.
So, what do you do about it?
Start by giving an approximate budget, which eliminates entirely unreasonable proposals and lets the contracting companies optimize. Sure, you might save a tiny bit by not revealing this part of your hand, but you are far more likely to get a solution that really does the best job for the money and that easily cancels out the risks. This also changes the dialog from “lowest bidder” to “what can I give you for this much money” and that is likely to raise the overall quality of the product, too.
Next, put priorities on your wish-list. Contractors are much better at guessing how much something will cost them to implement than the inner workings of yourbusiness. Rather than guessing, having more accurate starting information leads to better cost/benefit analysis, which in turn leads to a solution you are more likely to be happy with.
Deciding what proposal to use is simply a matter of determining who gives you the most for your money, and now the proposals you get back will actually do most of the work for you. That’s something to celebrate!