RST Software
Editorial Team
Ross Krawczyk
Reviewed by a tech expert

How to write a software development RFP (Request for Proposal)

Read this articles in:

Imagine trying to navigate through a jungle without a map, or attempting to cook a complex meal without a recipe. That's exactly how it feels to run a procurement process without a Request for Proposal (RFP).

While it may seem quicker or easier to conduct a procurement process without a software RFP in the short term, there are several risks and challenges involved that can lead to long-term drawbacks.

This article will explain what an application development RFP is, why it is necessary, and provide guidance on how to draft one.

What is an RFP in software development?

The abbreviation “RFP” stands for “Request for Proposal.” A software RFP is a document issued by a business to invite IT companies or consultants to submit a proposal for developing a specific application or system.

By issuing an RFP, the company can collect and evaluate proposals from multiple vendors, allowing them to make an informed decision on which one to hire for their software development project. The RFP process ensures that all vendors receive the same information and requirements, making the selection process fair and transparent.

Why is an RFP important?

Preparing a software Request for Proposal is crucial for development projects, particularly complex ones that involve external vendors or contractors. Here's why it plays a pivotal role:

1. It ensures scope clarity

Writing an RFP helps your company define clear objectives and scope of work (SOW). This is vital for vendors and your organization, as it ensures everyone is on the same page and understands the project's goals and requirements.

2. It focuses on standardization and transparency

The software Request for Proposal provides vendors with standardized documents containing project requirements. This ensures that all the selected parties receive the same information, making it easier to compare their responses.

3. It provides legal and compliance alignment

A software development RFP is a formal document that outlines the rules and requirements of procurement. These rules and regulations are important for legal and compliance reasons. The software RFP, along with the vendor's response, can serve as the basis for a contract, ensuring that all terms are clear and agreed upon.

4. It offers time and budget clarity

A well-prepared RFP helps the company make an informed decision, saves time on clarifications, and saves money by encouraging vendors to submit their best and most cost-effective offers.

RFP vs. RFI vs. RFQ

Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Quote (RFQ), and Request for Information (RFI) are all procurement-related instruments. Each one has a specific purpose and is used at different stages of the procedure. It is crucial to understand when and how to use these tools in order to achieve your goal. The table below provides a clear illustration of the differences between them:

Purpose To explore the market and gather general information about potential vendors. To outline specific goals, requirements, and criteria for the project to effectively select a suitable vendor. To ensure the project is procured at the best possible price.
Focus To create a broad pool of suitable vendors. To narrow down the number of vendors. To make the final selection.
Stage Used early in the process, the company may not be ready for a purchase yet. Used when a company knows they have a specific project or challenge to address. Used in the final stage, when the company knows exactly what they want.

How to write an effective software RFP?

This task may not be as difficult as it seems. Begin by composing a document that outlines the parameters you are knowledgeable about, such as your company, the market context, project goals, or necessary technical requirements. We will provide guidance along the way. Allow your vendors to handle the more challenging aspects.

Step 1. Formulate the statement of purpose

A well-formulated statement ensures that potential vendors understand the expectations, goals, and significance of the project. Crafting a thoughtful and thorough statement of purpose will yield more relevant and high-quality proposals, ultimately contributing to the project's success. When formulating your statement, aim for clarity and conciseness.

Step 2. Prepare an executive project summary

The executive project summary serves as a roadmap, ensuring that the solutions proposed by potential vendors align with the organization's strategic objectives.

To provide context for the project, the summary should start with a description of the organization and its vision. It can also explore any specific challenges, competitive environment, or market opportunities, giving vendors enough information to grasp the project.

The goals of the project should be clearly specified, emphasizing the desired outcomes.

Step 3. Define your software development project scope

This is the most complex and important part of the process that defines the technical requirements of the project.

First, list all the functional requirements and explain how end-users will interact with your software. Then, list the non-functional requirements which relate to system performance, accessibility, security, etc.

In a perfect world, you should also specify technical constraints such as programming languages, platforms and tools, systems the software must be compatible with, and APIs it needs to connect with (also data migration issues, if applicable). Additionally, define user roles and specify the permissions associated with each role.

Don't worry if you are not tech-savvy. Simply provide vendors with the information you possess and let them handle the rest.

Step 4: Set essential project time frames

Define specific dates for the procurement process and project launch. In addition, provide clear milestones and corresponding deadlines.

By establishing transparent, realistic, and well-communicated time frames, vendors will have a comprehensive understanding of when to debrief, submit proposals, and anticipate decisions. This will enable them to effectively manage their resources and plan their workloads. Furthermore, for your organization, time frames are crucial for allocating resources for proposal evaluation, vendor selection, and implementation. Ultimately, both parties benefit from a sense of urgency that ensures the project progresses smoothly.

It goes without saying that the same schedule should be provided to vendors as well.

Step 5: Set your budget

Setting a budget is crucial because it establishes clear financial boundaries and expectations for both your company and potential vendors. It ensures that you have carefully considered the financial implications of the project and will only evaluate proposals that fit within the budgetary constraints. By doing so, you can guarantee that your company gets the best value for its investment.

Transparency about the budget also helps attract more reasonable proposals. Vendors can better match their financial expectations to their services, which can save time on future negotiations and revisions. Any proposals that significantly exceed the budget can be easily identified and rejected.

In addition, setting a budget promotes transparency and fairness throughout the bidding process, as all vendors are working with the same financial parameters.

Step 6: Outline vendor bids and software vendor selection criteria

Vendor bids and software vendor selection criteria are essential for helping your organization choose the right partner for your project. Here is a list of potential components to consider in your vendor bids:

  • a comprehensive project plan,
  • information about the vendor's expertise,
  • details on team members, their roles, and experience,
  • available tech stack (including technologies, methodologies, and tools),
  • risk management plan,
  • support and maintenance services (including response times, update policies, etc.),
  • compliance with industry standards and security measures,
  • references with contact information for previous clients,
  • a detailed breakdown of costs.

By establishing clear selection criteria, your organization ensures a transparent and objective evaluation process, where each bid is assessed against the same set of standards.

Typically, companies use a weighted scoring system to evaluate proposals based on predetermined criteria when selecting a software vendor through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Each criterion is assigned a percentage based on its importance to the overall project.

Key steps in the RFP process

To ensure a smooth procurement process, the selection of the right vendor, the finalization of the contract, and the prompt commencement of the project, it is important to follow these steps in the RFP process.

Phase 1. Discovery meeting with stakeholders

Initiating the RFP process is crucial, and conducting discovery meetings with stakeholders is vital for its success. These meetings serve to gather diverse perspectives, align expectations, and ensure a clear understanding of the project's objectives and requirements. Additionally, they help identify potential risks and constraints, allowing stakeholders to voice their concerns.

Furthermore, this is an opportune time to establish realistic requirements, timelines, and budgets. If you do not have a dedicated procurement department, it is important to assign roles to specific individuals. Consider who will write the document, who possesses the necessary expertise to evaluate technical aspects, and who is best suited to analyze the cost breakdown thoroughly.

Phase 2. Software RFP preparation

This is the key step in the RFP process. Let's examine it in detail using a sample mobile app development RFP for an e-scooter sharing app.

Firstly, provide your vendors with an overview of the company, market background, and project executive summary.

XYZ, a leader in micromobility services, is seeking proposals from software development companies to create a cutting-edge mobile application for our e-scooter sharing service. We aim to enhance our current service offering with a more user-friendly, dependable, and feature-rich application, ensuring a superior user experience and increased customer satisfaction.

Next, list the project objectives. This section could be organized as follows:

Our primary objectives for the new version of the mobile application are:

  • to provide an intuitive and user-friendly interface for ease of use,
  • to enhance real-time scooter location accuracy,
  • to enhance availability status presentation.

Secondary objectives include:

In the following section, specify the scope of work. Consider the following example:

The selected vendor will be responsible for:

Then define budget constraints:

The estimated budget ranges from $150,000 to $200,000, inclusive of all development, testing, and implementation costs.

Next, provide proposal submission details:

Proposals should be submitted by [deadline]. Please include:

  • a detailed plan with a project timeline and milestones,
  • a breakdown of estimated costs,
  • information about your team,
  • examples of similar projects you have completed,
  • contact information for at least three references.

Note: The timeline should include the RFP release, debriefing time, proposal submission deadline, vendor selection date, project kick-off, and project completion.

Now, list software vendor selection criteria with assigned percentages.

Proposals will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • understanding of the project requirements (30%),
  • cost (20%),
  • team expertise (15%),
  • approach and methodology (15%),
  • relevant experience (10%),
  • support and maintenance (10%).

The document should conclude with terms, conditions, and contact information.

Phase 3. Distributing software RFP among selected vendors

To maintain transparency and ensure equal response opportunities, it is important to distribute the application development RFP simultaneously to all selected vendors. Along with the RFP, include an email that emphasizes key points, provides context, and expresses gratitude for their participation.

Once the RFP has been sent, be prepared and available to answer any queries or provide clarifications during the response period.

There are different types of procurement processes, each with its own advantages, challenges, and use cases. The most popular ones are:

  • open procurement, which is a transparent process where invitations to bid are made public, allowing any qualified vendor to submit a proposal;
  • selective procurement, where only pre-qualified vendors are invited to submit bids based on their past performance, financial stability, experience, and so on.

Phase 4. Scoring and shortlisting proposals

In an RFP process, rating and shortlisting vendors is crucial for ensuring that your business selects the best vendor to meet its specific needs.

By assigning scores to various aspects of each vendor's proposal (such as price, experience, technical capability, past performance, etc.), the organization can objectively assess and compare the strengths and weaknesses of each vendor.

Creating a shortlist of potential vendors based on their scores helps to narrow down the available options to those that align most closely with the project requirements and organizational goals. This streamlines the decision-making process, saving both time and resources.

Phase 5. Selecting the best vendor and sending the contract

Analyze the shortlisted proposals once again and compare them to ensure you make an informed selection that aligns with your organization's objectives and requirements.

You can evaluate the differences and similarities between vendors, as well as identify their respective strengths, weaknesses, and value propositions.

If necessary, contact vendors or their references for further information. Negotiate the cost or additional scope of work. Once you have chosen the best vendor, inform them as well as the other participants who submitted proposals. Thank them for their interest and encourage them to participate in future procurement processes.

Best practices for writing an effective RFP

Although there are no strict dos and don'ts when it comes to RFPs, we have gathered a few best practices that can benefit both you and your vendors.

  • Firstly, it is important to be clear and concise. An RFP should be well-structured and easy to understand. Avoid using jargon and getting too technical.
  • Secondly, it is crucial to be realistic in terms of quality, time, and budget. While the “good-cheap-fast” triangle may be a popular meme, it doesn’t work like that in the real world.
  • Additionally, it is beneficial to encourage questions. Creating a learning environment that fosters a deeper understanding of the RFP can lead to better outcomes.
  • When listing requirements, it is recommended to focus on challenges rather than solutions. Allowing selected vendors to suggest the tools, methodologies, and technologies that may work best for the project, can lead to innovative results.
  • Moreover, providing a list of must-have's and nice-to-have's gives vendors a clear understanding of what is necessary and allows for the consideration of independent initiatives.

Lastly, if you have concerns about your understanding of the proposals or fear that your judgment may be too subjective, it is advisable to seek help. Asking stakeholders to support you in the decision-making process can provide valuable insights.

People also ask

No items found.
Want more posts from the author?
Read more

Want to read more?

CTO Corner

Introduction to data-centric AI

Explore the fundamentals of data-centric AI. Unlock insights into harnessing data for powerful AI applications.
CTO Corner

Introduction to Data Lakes – how to deploy them in the cloud?

Get started with data lakes in the cloud. Learn deployment strategies and harness the power of data for your organization.
CTO Corner

Introduction to data warehouses: use cases, design and more

Discover the benefits and use cases of data warehouses in this comprehensive introduction. Unlock data-driven insights for success.
No results found.
There are no results with this criteria. Try changing your search.