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How to create a perfect software development RFP [w/ free template]

Request for Proposal (RFP) is a valuable asset to any business looking to hire a third-party vendor.

While many compare an RFP to a CV or a Tinder account, it's much, much more than that; a precise RFP is a cornerstone of an entire project. However, the comparison is fair in one aspect: without an RFP, you waste precious business time sorting through proposals from vendors that have zero knowledge about the potential work scope.

Some domains are reluctant to consider RFPs when choosing a partner; but, in a saturated and highly competitive software industry, finding a perfect match is particularly tough.

If you're looking for an engineering vendor and you need some RFP guidance; or, just want to decide if you even need it, stay on this page. For 15 years in the market, we've received countless RFPs, thus having come to a firm idea of what a "gold standard" RFP should look like.

Here's an insider's look at how to create a speaking-for-itself RFP, its key parts, pro tips, and the consequences of ignoring this document. As a bonus, we've prepared a detailed, ready-to-fill software development RFP template.

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A good RFP is invaluable when choosing
the right software development vendor

That's why we've compiled all RFP must-haves and prepared an in-depth template to help you find the partner that fits your roadmap, budget, and scale.

The bare RFP minimum you should know

For those businesses looking to solicit bids from software development companies, it's essential to put out a software development request for a proposal to ensure that the vendor can provide the services you want.

Simply put, such requests are used to structure and summarize the details of a project. An RFP is also a signal to vendors that you're serious in your plans to go forward with a project or idea.

Requests come in different shapes, formats, and sizes; you determine the rules. However, one thing in such types of documents should stay intact: after getting your RFP, vendors should have a clear outline of your requirements and aspirations for this project. Most importantly, they should be able to see clearly whether they can meet these expectations.

What is an RFP

The ultimate goal of any RFP is to find a solid software development partner, one that has the hands-on expertise and knowledge to complete the project successfully. Here are three key considerations when working on a request for proposal:

  • Purpose: Solicit proposals from well-qualified vendors, requesting a possible software solution for a project.
  • Content: An RFP should be clear and concise containing both general and detailed information about your project. You should list all features, preferable tech stack, integrations, and expectations on the RFP.
  • When to choose: RFPs are vital for complex software development projects. Once you've developed an in-depth plan for your project, defined its objectives, and determined the purpose of your product, you should draft an RFP that includes your distinct criteria for features.

RFP before hiring a software development vendor: Is it a must?

Communication is the key to any effective collaboration, and it's a necessity for any business submitting a request for a proposal. When you're looking for a tech partner, it's essential to communicate all the requirements of the project. This allows these companies to assess at the early stages whether they'll be able to offer relevant and required software services.

Here at iTechArt, we receive dozens of requests from companies that are looking for a new software development partner. In our experience, those documents that state the "what, why, who" details (what's necessary to build, why you want it built and, finally, who's going to use it) help us bring the most relevant expertise to the table and find a very strong team.

For example, if an RFP states that a company is looking to build a cross-platform application, then we know what tech stack fits best for such projects and compose an in-depth description of our cross-platform capabilities. Of course, we also talk about the most recent work we've done.

What are the benefits of RFPs?

If you're still on the fence about whether you should consider an RFP, it's important to realize that with an RFP, you're able to make a more informed decision. Here, we've gathered some of the most important RFP-related perks, and explained how they can be used to streamline the process of picking a good partner.

What are the benefits of RFPs?


Make a thorough assessment

Creating an effective RFP requires a clear vision of the desired outcomes. It's also important to elaborate on your target audience, the marketplace you'll be entering, as well as its main players. When drafting a request, you have the chance to dive into these details to check if you've assessed the project as a whole.

You'll have a better feel for its strengths and weaknesses and convey your findings to prospective service providers to help them identify the approach they'd take to enhance the project and weed out weak points. It's a win-win for both you and the vendors.

Save time

Many businesses have a plague-like (and unjustified) fear of utilizing RFPs. While it's true that drafting a complete RFP requires considerable time and effort, the payoff is huge.

Compiling a thorough RFP means you'll spend less time having to answer repeated questions about unclear details. Not to mention, the more data you put up about the project, the less likely major mistakes are to occur, which could take significant time to rectify.

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, with an RFP at hand, a vendor has the opportunity to determine whether it's equipped to handle the requirements early on, so you can avoid having to sift through numerous unqualified proposals.

Simplify the vendor selection process

Once you have an RFP that employs a standardized format, vendor proposals will be easy to compare against one another.

Think of a list of criteria you'll use while evaluating options. For example, if you want to create a healthcare application with video conferencing capabilities, mark those companies that mentioned in their responses a good wrap-up of their prior expertise with such types of software. Companies that specialize in building healthtech solutions or those that have completed several health-related projects can better advise you on tech stack, ways to build architecture, or even warn about potential risks and limitations you might face. Moreover, those agencies that don't have relevant expertise will drop out of the race.

RFP best practices

We understand that an RFP can be a crucial part of vendor selection, so we've rounded up some best practices on how to write an RFP for custom software development projects and brainstormed a special software development RFP template. All you need to do is download the template and follow our advice when filling it out.

RFP best practices

1. Keep things simple

Simplicity matters, so try to keep the RFP concise. While it can be a challenge since an RFP needs to give as many details as possible, it'll allow you to highlight the key project parts and avoid cluttering the request with unnecessary information.

Remember, companies and agencies may be working on multiple RFPs at once; they need to prioritize their time, too. Be sure to describe the project in detail in just half a page.

2. Provide vendors with a complete picture

An RFP should provide companies with a solid foundation to evaluate and build upon. When possible, include a concept of a product and provide competitor examples.

Sometimes, images speak louder than words. It would be reasonable to include a simple schema that describes such things as platform architecture, database structure, or user flow. It's unnecessary for such schemas to be pixel perfect, so tools such as MindMeister or mindmaps can ease life and bring things together.

Tech stack

3. Follow the structure of your project

When describing your project, be sure to follow its structure. As it's impossible to build something complicated all at once, define product development stages and expected outcomes from each milestone. Be as clear as possible so engineers won't have any problem trying to decipher what you want.

Also, set up the rules of the game: state the terms of deadlines. Include dates when you're expecting responses, when you're planning to notify preselected vendors, as well as the date of the final decision.

Gathering the responses from an RFP requires time and effort, so don't forget to get back with an update to the companies that failed to meet requirements and are out of the selection process. Ideally, be ready to give feedback and explain why this particular company wasn't chosen.

4. Provide visuals

As previously stated, the more comprehensive the RFP is, the better results you'll get. Think of adding mock-ups or screenshots. It's often easier for vendors to get an accurate idea of what you're looking for if you provide a visual representation.

Several options are available to help you work on visuals. A quicker and more professional way is to hire a freelance designer if you don't have one on staff. Luckily, many resources exist, such as 99designs, Dribble, Behance, and Upwork, where you can find a designer whose style corresponds to your visual taste, preferences, and budget.

There's always an option to create everything on your own using tools such as Figma, Sketch, Mockplus, Framer, Proto.io, or one of many more.

Provide mock-ups

Some final thoughts

Software development RFPs offer businesses a way to streamline their vendor selection process when they're looking for high-quality software solutions.

It's worth remembering that the requirements of each organization vary. Therefore, each RFP will be different and should be tailored to suit the provision of your business. That's why we recommend using our RFP template after implementing all the necessary adjustments. Download our sample and cut down on time spent while compiling your RFP.

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