How to Write a Request for Proposals for Software Development
Wondering how to write a perfect request for proposals? In this article, we go in-depth on writing an RFP for software development, give you useful tips, and offer a template for an RFP that will get a response.
What is an RFP for software development?
A request for proposals (RFP) is the first step in choosing a supplier for your project. A good RFP describes the specifics of your company and project, contains detailed requirements for your product or service, and provides a timeline. A well-structured RFP helps potential suppliers create meaningful proposals. Companies can then compare the proposals they receive to decide with whom they wish to cooperate.
Why are RFPs important?
An RFP is an important way to validate suppliers and compare different action plans and opportunities to find the best company to do business with. Often, requests for proposals lead to a contract and the exchange of a significant amount of money for goods and services.
Instead of spending a lot of time looking for a supplier, you can publish an RFP and have suppliers come to you with proposals. An RFP also allows you to view your project from different perspectives, as each vendor will include a different action plan along with their project proposal. The best part is that you have all this information before you even have to contact a potential supplier.
Tips for writing an RFP that gets a response
Here are tips for writing an RFP that gets a response:
Use subheadings and bullet points
Using subheadings and bullet points makes your request for proposals more readable and understandable than an RFP with large blocks of text. Sellers are more likely to respond if they can easily understand what you are saying.
If possible, write about what you know
Ideally, you should only write requests for proposals for services that you understand and work with. Your understanding of the services you need will help you craft an informed and detailed RFP that asks the most appropriate questions to get relevant answers.
Create a library of standard questions, sections, and templates
Each RFP will be slightly different. However, many questions and sections will remain the same. For example, the details of the assessment process, customer success issues, and terms and conditions can be very similar from one RFP to the next.
By creating a library of questions, sections, and RFP templates, you can speed up the process of creating RFPs. In addition, maintaining a knowledge library will improve consistency and reduce the risk of creating an incomplete request for proposals. RFP management software makes it easy to create dynamic templates. However, you can also create your library manually in Excel or Google Sheets.
Standard RFP questions:
- Is there a trial period? If you can try a solution before buying it, you’re much more likely to make the right decision.
- Do you have a change management plan? The company should be invested in your long-term success.
- Can I speak with a current client? If the vendor has no clients you can speak with, this is a red flag.
- How do you deal with problems? No matter how good a product or service is, problems arise. Does the vendor have a strong customer service team ready to fix any bugs?
- What are your options for training? The better you understand a solution, the more value you can derive from it.
One of the things that’s most frustrating for RFP respondents is unclear expectations.
Areas where transparency matters include:
- Background and context. Provide as much information as possible about why you are looking for a solution. The better a provider understands your current condition, the more accurately they can tell you how they can help.
- Expected results and goals. While it’s important to be open to creativity, it’s also important to be clear about what you’re expecting. With this in mind, formulate clear expectations regarding the timing, results, and ROI.
- Evaluation and scoring. Preparing proposals takes time. Therefore, when writing your RFP, indicate who will evaluate the proposal and how. This helps suppliers make good use of their time.
Customize and optimize your template
Don’t get too carried away with the standard RFP template. Another frustration that’s often mentioned by RFP respondents is confusion when responding to an RFP that has not been updated. Submitting a template without customizing it often leads to inappropriate, conflicting, or confusing questions. Faced with these challenges, many vendors simply choose not to waste their time answering the RFP.
How to write an RFP
Step 1. Define your project and needs
Before writing a request for proposals, write down what your project is and what you need from suppliers. A bulleted list is a good format for this planning step. Note what you want your supplier to do, how they should do it, where the work should be done, and when the work should be completed. You can refer to this list when writing your request for proposals to make sure it contains all key information.
Step 2. Write an introduction
Your introduction should explain why you’re distributing your request for proposals and what you hope to accomplish by hiring a supplier. Along with a brief description of the project, list the problem you think a supplier can help your business with. Your introduction may also include a summary of other key project points, such as the estimated start date and deadline.
Step 3. Explain your company’s and project’s history
Briefly describe the history of your company and the project in which it’s involved. This section provides suppliers with the background information they need to assess the health of your business and decide if they want to work with you. A supplier may not be familiar with your company, so please provide all the information they need to make an informed decision. This includes what your company does, what its values are, and what makes it unique.
Step 4. Describe your project’s requirements
Write a detailed explanation of what you need from a provider. Take your time to make sure you list all of your requirements so that vendors can determine if they’re right for your project. Include your budget and preferred experience in this section.
Step 5. Explain how vendors should respond
Write structure, which, as you would expect, will follow your suppliers in planning a response to your request for proposals. When all providers follow the same format, their responses are easier to assess. Depending on the complexity of your project, this format could be a simple list of titles or a more detailed list with bullet points below the titles.
Step 6. Outline your selection criteria
Explain how you will select the winning candidate from among respondents. You should note your company’s priorities, including basic criteria and preferred credentials.
This section will help suppliers formulate responses that will show how well they meet your business requirements.
Step 7. Note your timelines
Write down the main deadlines suppliers need to know: when you need their answer, when you will announce the contract recipient, when the project will start, and your delivery deadline (if known). Knowing these deadlines helps suppliers organize their schedules and determine if they have time to work with your business. Make sure the deadline for bids gives suppliers enough time to respond. The more detailed your response requirements, the more time you must give suppliers to submit bids.
Step 8. Proofread and revise your RFP
Proofreading your request for proposals will help you identify and correct grammar and spelling errors before distribution. It can also help you identify sentences that can be rephrased for greater clarity and fluency. After editing the RFP, send it to a colleague involved in the project for feedback. Proofreading and revising your RFP will make this document look more professional.
RFP template for software development
1. A brief description of the project and an overview of your company.
When you write a project summary, simply and comprehensively state the project’s goals, objectives, requirements, and constraints. Include information about your target audience. Make it informative and concise. You will most likely need to edit this part a couple of times later, but remember to start over. Add a few paragraphs about your company and its history.
When listing your project’s goals, there are two things to keep in mind:
The purpose of any activity goes beyond the scope of the activity
That is, the goal of building a website may be to foster multi-channel engagement with your customers, not just to sell your product. The goal of developing a B2B platform may be to reduce costs and increase turnover through automation, not just to provide software for customer interactions.
Set quantitative goals
These goals can be achievable and definitive, or they can simply indicate the direction of your business. For example: doubling sales by 2020, or increasing sales at least twice a year. Regardless of which option you choose, just make sure you can track your progress.
This part of the RFP is pretty straightforward and strategy-related. However, this information is the most important. Make sure you answer the following questions:
- What makes your company unique?
- What idea would you like to implement?
- What is your vision for the project?
- What values should this project add to your company’s existing business processes?
- Who is your target audience? Who will the outsourcing software company design your product for?
- What pain points and obstacles are you trying to overcome?
- Why is your current solution not working (if applicable)?
2. Scope of services and deliverables
When we get to the technical part of your RFP, things get a little more complicated. This part of an RFP will probably be the longest for a software company. The more information you provide here, the more accurate the offers you can get from potential suppliers.
In this section, you should ask questions about the methods and particularities of managing hybrid teams or working with foreign clients. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to a collaboration methodology and model, you should consider the following important points when managing projects:
- Regular syncing with all development teams
- Having a coordinator of the local team on the development company’s side
- Emphasizing project documentation
- Implementing CI/CD practices, DevOps, and test automation
It’s important to set functional requirements separately from non-functional. The latter refers to the characteristics of the system, not to its functions. In some cases, product requirements can be similar to user stories.
Be sure to indicate if your team has analysts who will be communicating with your potential vendor’s analysts.
Functional design is part of the overall requirements management and development process. Each requirement should be analyzed in terms of many aspects, including how it affects the UX. Here’s what vendors usually offer:
- Defining the UI/UX concept based on the original business requirements
- UX adaptation to new business requirements inherent in the project
- Reviewing and improving the UX. Refactoring is necessary, as some comments may be received from end users. In addition, in some cases, it’s useful to rethink the whole concept of the UX, since many minor edits can lead to dramatic UX changes.
In this section, it’s time to ask questions about the overall software delivery project workflow and management tools. Typical development phase outputs include source code (with unit tests), build scripts (adapted for CI), short development documentation, and release notes. The sufficiency of source code documentation should be ensured by appropriate code style checking rules and regular manual code reviews.
You might want to highlight the supplier’s quality assurance policy in your RFP. Ask about the following aspects:
- How testing adapts to business processes
- Communication between in-house and outsourcing teams
- The approach to test automation and the tools and metrics used
This is where the vendor expects you to provide information on how your product managers will be involved in software development (creating a business requirements backlog, scheduling, UI/UX sessions, functional design, QC sessions, etc.)
3. RFP response timeline
Please note that if your project is complex, the outsourcing software development company should have sufficient time to prepare an RFP response. By giving them this time, you can get accurate estimates and bids with detailed information.
4. Suggested structure for vendor bids
5. Selection criteria
Even if you’re not ready to follow your criteria, there are certain aspects that will greatly influence your decision. It’s important for startups to launch their MVPs as soon as possible and cut costs.
In the banking sector in particular, it’s important for companies to receive reliable recommendations from other clients.
A good software development RFP usually consists of two stages.
The first is the prequalification stage. At this stage, the company selects suppliers who can potentially create the type of project they want to build. To determine this, companies ask for links, examples of similar projects, descriptions of the development process, general information about the company, etc.
The second stage involves more detail. The company shares the details of the project and asks for a cost estimate, and terms of cooperation, the technical vision of the project, and so on. This helps them create a short list of candidates for easy comparison.
There’s no standard template for writing a software development request for proposals. Instead, we have provided you with a few important guidelines. Keep them in mind when creating a request for proposals that suits your project needs.
If you’re interested in writing a request for proposals but don’t know where to start, contact Mobindustry for a free consultation.