How IT Project Proposals Work
aka Outsourced Development Quote
Every IT project starts with a plea or a pitch. If the abilities of one party meet the requirements of the other, we have a match 💞 So where do you take it from there? The fragile partnership-in-the-making might collapse because of the one wrong move and it’s a business proposal, or as they usually call it in development circles — a quote. Now there is a fine line between an alluring quote with underestimated time & material rates and a wary quote with vague rates. Both of these have a big chance of killing the project.
A quote is the first important project task before you even start the project!
Sounds a bit counterintuitive, but bear with me, as I’ll try to give you a quick tour on the Shakuro Quote Process works. Our CTO, Alex Chaly will provide some insights. This is not a guide by any means, just our little break down of the quote process and some principles we follow after getting our share of bumps and bruises in the business.
The question any incoming project query contains is “how much?” That is what the leads do, and that is the question we want our sales to handle like pros by dexterously passing the request to a Project Manager. A PM is a key figure in the request-handling process. Their experience/vision is the first filter that potential projects have to pass through. Those that ignite a spark in a PM are the projects we adhere to in the first place.
Different projects showcase multiple variables and uniquenesses that have to be taken into account from the get-go. Those include the first impression, the spokesperson, the industry, the ambitions, the terms, the cultural peculiarities of the project, and etc. A PM’s ability to decipher that valuable information and pick the wheat from the chaff is widely appreciated, and we are not an exception.
Usually, the information presented within a quote request is superficial, but you can still pick up a lot from it. First, the identification of the client’s scope of involvement through these types of questions:
- Do they have experience in software development?
- How aware are they of the design process?
- Do they know a wireframe from a prototype?
- Are they familiar with outsourced work process?
- What are their terms and budget restrictions?
It generally requires analytical skills, some knowledge of psychology, and a nose for business to make sense of the client’s project description. You don’t want to overextend yourself on a project that will never go off, as well as miss out on a big opportunity.
One of the superpowers a PM can have is the ability to get into the head of the person making the request and look beyond their presentation into the core of the idea.
Types Of Quotes
Judging from that variety of factors, it’s PM’s objective to characterize an incoming project’s quote belonging to one of these 3 types:
- The rough quote.
- The custom quote.
- The elaborate quote.
These are just the high-level initial types. Of course, there are intersecting projects, a lot of them require clarification, but as a general guideline this is the classification we use to maintain a big picture and not get lost in the details.
The Rough Quote
This one usually takes 1 to 2 hours. And is a PM’s subjective evaluation based on the brief information and the similarities found in the previous projects. This type of quote is very superficial and it is that because of the client’s need. So the PM’s workflow is typically the following:
- Study the project description in terms of meaning and form. Analyze the choice of words, try to catch the mood of the person in charge, as well the voice and tone of the brand if there is one.
- Find similarities in the implemented projects and pick basic design/development process stages from there.
- Analyze the efforts it previously took to build those similarities.
- Apply the data to the current situation.
- Consider visible risks and potential issues.
- Come up with a project proposal in 90 minutes or so.
A quick and rough quote might be reconsidered once the first decision is made.
Though being very rough and approximate, it is important for us to deliver as much relevance as we possibly can. This is where analytical skills come into play. You don’t need a first-hand experience in shoe sales to create a shoe depot website, online store, or an app. If you’ve ever dealt with e-commerce, the practices, pitfalls, and solutions you acquired there should be enough for you to see the parallels.
There is a catch though. Developing solutions for multiple industries might give some people a false sense of awareness. Every industry these days is dynamic and nothing like it was 5 or 10 years ago, so if you are stuck in the 2005 thinking mode about some domain, you are unlikely to be on the same page as a client approaching you.
As part of our policy, we encourage our Project Managers to explore the trends in global industries like commerce, gaming, art, finance, sports, entertainment, etc.
The Custom Quote
Whenever the incoming information is every bit of substantial and urgency is not a factor, we try to go with a deeper and more complex version of the rough quote and it’s the custom one. The case where a project complexity shines through requires a collective estimation. So this is where the PM summons the team that usually includes a back-end developer, a UI/UX designer, a front-end developer, and QA engineer.
By that point, the PM has done their research and can present the project in detail. So how does the team get involved? Everyone has their specific slice of the project and the responsibilities, so after the PM reveals the project, the team fills a special templated document with their estimations. The PM goes through those with a fine-tooth comb and assembles the design+development quote.
Additional Quote Items
The time & material efforts of the team is a significant part of the project estimation, but there are more things to it. First, it’s the infrastructure works, including server deployment, setup, CMS operations, etc.
A separate entity that affects the initial quote and shapes it into a proposal is risk management. Every project comes in with a certain number of visible and disguised risks, that affect our performance. Over the years, we’ve accumulated enough experience to create a matrix of risks specific to our company. Those include:
- New and unfamiliar technologies to be used.
- Third-party platform integration requirements.
- Level of team commitment required.
- Internal policy (availability, employee seniority, etc.)
- All sorts of smaller shenanigans.
According to that matrix, we figure out the risk index of a project and integrate it with the quote and see if we are still on the positive side. If we are, we kick it right off, if not — the work continues in re-evaluation to see what are the areas that can be improved. This type of quotes is a serious effort and it takes around 10 hours to deliver.
The Elaborate Quote
Entering the deep waters we are. You know when you hit a cluster of loot in a video game and you are kind of lost and don’t know where to start? That is what sometimes happens when a large enterprise project gets drawn. These are the commonly found features of a big project:
- It requires a prototype because you can’t wrap your head around all the variables and functionalities it has.
- It also requires a detailed roadmap as per the technologies to be used, infrastructure, and even new employees to fill the gaps.
At this point, the quote assembly becomes a hell of a job on itself, which in order to be done properly has to be paid for. This is where we draw the line between tendering and actually projecting the future work. The result of winning a tender is the reconsideration of what got you there, thus requoting.
With our rockstar elaborate quote, we want to be as good as our words. That’s why we treat complex quote as a separate segment of the project and charge for it. This is the type of quote that we should really call ‘package’, as the price is not the only asset we deliver. The 50-hour subproject package includes the following items:
- High-fidelity wireframe. There is not a lot of options that can be representative of the proposed functionality enough to persuade a client. Prototypes we deliver with the help of the Axure software is certainly a good asset. We can recreate prototypes with conditional logic, dynamic content, UI animation, and UX interactions without having to write any code.
- Unbiased general estimate. The quotes we create after all the thorough research, presentation, and delivery are not company-specific. This means you can take it anywhere else to implement, put it on the shelf, have it peer-reviewed, or whatever you want because it’s your custom estimate and we stand for it. Of course, any project estimate is closely connected to the time period and is better implemented while fresh and by those who drew the map.
Web App Quote Example
I’ve seen quotes that look like personal emails with a lot of irrelevant information and “breaking-the-ice” techniques mixed between the cold numbers and technology lists. Every project we get involved in starts with an interview, or Q&A/AMA session, where we get a feel of the project in a verbal conversation. This is not a quote process yet, it’s the acquaintance with the project.
And then, we can talk business. This is a sample custom quote (the second type), that was generated by a PM after the team meeting within 10 hours.
We believe a quote has to be relevant to the request. Even though we do attempt to approach the quote process from a standpoint of using a template, every quote is unique. Different project objectives enable us to leverage specific parts and features, and we make sure we can demonstrate it in a quote.
The quote has to fulfill its value, be memorable, and to the point. Over 10 years of experience in web/mobile design & development have taught us some valuable lessons on how to approach proposals, one of them being “don’t turn it into a show”. Instead, we try to embed it into our signature business process which is open, precise, and smooth.