How to Write a Request for Proposal for Software Development



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If you want to hire a development team to build your product, the first thing to do is create a request for proposal (RFP). This is a key step in the process.

A request for proposal is a document you create before you start looking for a team to make your software product. It includes your needs, requirements, deliverable dates, and other details. You’ll send this document to potential software development firms. Once the firms have the RFP, they’ll use it to create a bid based on the request.

Basically, an RFP is just a request for a quote. You’re asking, “How much time and money would it take to make this product?” The development shop replies with their estimate.

Creating a proper RFP offers several benefits:

  • Development teams know you’re taking your part of the process seriously, which makes them more likely to work with you.

  • It makes it easier for development shops to give you an accurate estimate.

  • Teams will have a better idea whether they are best suited for your project (they can meet your timeline, they have the right skills and staff, etc.).

  • By putting it down on paper right away, everyone saves time that would otherwise be spent in pointless Q&A meetings.

In this article, we’re going to walk you through the structure of a typical request for proposal. Make sure your RFP includes these key sections.

Request for Proposal

1. Project Overview

Think of this first section like an executive summary. The goal is to hit the main points so the development can decide if the project is worth investigating. Use an outline to lay out the project’s goals, objectives, target audience, restrictions, and requirements in a compressed yet comprehensive way. This is not a college term paper, so get straight to the point.

2. Company Background

It helps to add a little information about what your company does and how the product will fit into its goals. This helps the software development firm understand why you need a product. They might be able to offer a better way to meet your goals. Address these points:

  • The company story (your model and what you want to achieve).

  • A list of products and services you offer.

  • How you match up to your competitors.

  • Any company values this product must adhere to.

3. Target Audience

This is where you should expand on your target audience. Explain who will use the product and to what extent. You will probably have different user groups or segments, so explain them each.

It also helps to lay out each person’s problems that you expect the product to solve. For instance, you might say, “Settling the bill is the biggest bottleneck of restaurant table turnover. This product will reduce waits by letting customers pay at the table without a server’s help.”

4. Project Goals

In this section of the RFP, outline what you want the project to achieve. It’s important to speak in outcomes here, not features. Let the development team worry about features. For instance, here’s are some examples:

“We want to handle all HR functions in one place.”
“We want to increase employee onboarding.”
“We want to completely automate our current process.”

If you can, add quantifiable metrics to your goals so the development team knows what they’re aiming for. For instance, instead of asking for a “fast loading web app,” say “we want page load speed under one second.”

5. Scope and Deliverables

Typically, this is the longest portion of an RFP. Every detail you add to this section will increase the odds of the potential development teams to provide an accurate estimate.

This section of your request for proposal should address the following questions:

  • What are the functional requirements of the product?

  • What will the user experience be like?

  • How will you communicate with the development team?

  • How will the project be documented?

  • What will quality assurance, delivery, operation, and testing processes look like?

  • What infrastructure requirements will the project have?

  • How will the development team address security?

  • How many developers do you need on the team? Do you need any subject matter experts?

  • What kinds of contracts, NDAs, or internal practices do you require?

  • What software development and collaboration approaches will you use?

Request for Proposal

6. Technical Requirements

This can be a hard section to write if you aren't a technical person, but it’s nevertheless important. Your goal here is to lay out the technical details of the project. Do your best to explain how you think the product should function, including relevant technologies. Include mockups or wireframes of interfaces and app pages if you can.

Furthermore, address the following issues:

  • Your existing IT infrastructure

  • Devices you’ll need it to work on

  • Any apps or platforms the product will have to integrate with

  • User accounts and permissions

7. Deliverable Schedule

When do you need the product? If it’s part of a bigger plan (like a marketing campaign), you may have a hard deadline. But if the product is a general improvement for an internal system, you may have some flexibility, but you should still put down some kind of timeframe.

This section seems pretty simple, but it’s an important component to help the software development company decide if they can fit you into their schedule. And if so, what kind of resources they need to devote to the project to meet your timeline.

8. Potential Roadblocks

Any time you build a strategy, it’s always important to recognize your challenges. Your software development team needs to know if there’s anything in the way of completing a successful project. List anything you know that might cause problems, delays, or other issues during development.

For example, is this project dependent on the completion of another project? What happens if that project goes poorly or never finishes? What happens if the liaison between the two projects decides to quit or take a vacation?

A word of warning: Don’t try to keep your roadblocks quiet in order to trick a development shop into agreeing to build your product. This will inevitably lead to time delays, budget overages, and a poor working relationship.

9. Budget Constraints

This is a touchy subject for a lot of organizations, but we recommend including it. Many organizations don’t like to reveal their budget because they fear vendors will use it up regardless of the project’s needs. But knowing this number helps development teams determine if they can meet your needs.

That said, be prepared to negotiate a bit. The development team might make you aware of factors that make your budget unreasonable for the type of product you need.

10. Point of Contact

Finally, it’s important to let potential vendors know who they’ll be dealing with in the company. Introduce their contact person if they have questions or concerns around the request for proposal. Ideally, this should be the same person who will guide them through the whole project.

Final Thoughts

A request-for-proposal is a key part of the software development process. Don't rush through this step. Create a comprehensive document that gives potential vendors everything they need to respond with an accurate estimate. A quality RFP is the first step toward a quality software product.

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