CEO Confidential

Your Current RFP Is Outdated: Find the Right Agency With Agile Methods

Mobile software development has become notably more complex. The average app costs more than $200,000 to develop and requires hundreds of hours of development time spread over about 18 weeks. Subscription-based software has become the norm, and the majority of apps integrate with multiple third-party cloud services.
These developmental complexities have led about 67 percent of development agencies and IT professionals to adopt agile development methodologies. Agile methodologies are preferable to waterfall development for these reasons:

  • Agile development embraces change. With technology products taking more than a quarter of a year to be built, you can be sure a competitor, partner, or customer will disrupt the road map. In contrast to rigid waterfall methodologies, agile development processes offer teams the flexibilityto react and adjust development according to these sudden unexpected changes.
  • The pace is quick.With mobile app life cycles shortening, technology projects require constant iteration to remain relevant to their audiences and functional on their platforms. Teams using agile methodologies bring products to market an average of 50 percent faster than those using other methodologies, so the app won’t be old news by the time it’s released.
  • The product defines progress.Waterfall techniques rely on artificial milestones to gauge progress, but agile development measures progress with a working feature or product at the end of each sprint. Agile methodologies hold product agencies accountable to deliver working products, while brands can watch their projects develop feature by feature into a working product.However, while product agencies have evolved to embrace agile methodologies, the RFPs companies use to solicit their services have not.

Why Don’t Traditional RFPs Work for Agile?

As any product development agency can attest, the process of creating and managing technology products is filled with unexpected obstacles. No matter how well a product is thought out, it will encounter developmental pitfalls that affect the timeline, cost, and required evolution of the product.

Although these pitfalls caused agencies to shift toward agile methodologies, traditional RFPs closely follow waterfall methodologies. To select a vendor, brands using traditional RFPs define project requirements that vendors use to respond with proposals. It’s a strict process that’s inherently confrontational and guarantees brands’ dissatisfaction when pitfalls inevitably arise.

Here’s why traditional RFPs don’t play well with today’s product agencies:

  • RFPs are unrealistically rigid. Traditional RFPs request an exact solution to an imaginary future state with a fixed cost ceiling delivered within a concrete timeline. They fail to acknowledge the inherent uncertainty and complexity in product development, forcing product agencies to package a number of unknowable variables into absolute values.
    • Fixed scope: The scope of RFPs is rooted purely in desire, not reality. At the RFP stage, agencies are forced to guess the client’s existing technology infrastructure. These unknowns make it difficult or impossible to guarantee the completion of a specific feature set within the given timeline and cost limit.
    • Fixed cost: Even with extensive discovery, agencies encounter unforeseen complexities when integrating product features with third-party platforms, which are constantly shifting and updating. These unforeseen expenses are nobody’s fault, and they put agencies in the position of either asking for more money or delivering an unfinished product.
    • Fixed time: It’s easy to look at a mobile product and think, “That couldn’t have taken long to build.” Whether due to shareholder pressure, senior leadership, or an impending marketing campaign, brands chronically underestimate the time needed to get a desired technology product to market.
  • RFPs encourage dangerous assumptions. When required to commit to a specific timeline, cost, and scope, product agencies vie for brands’ business by assuming the most favorable conditions. These assumptions ensure the proposal meets a brand’s criteria and gets sign-off from its senior leaders, but it’s a false benefit. When conditions aren’t met, a change order is required, damaging the relationship between the partners and further ballooning the timeline.
  • RFPs create adversaries.By encouraging unrealistic expectations, traditional RFPs place brands and agency partners at odds from the start. Rather than craft a collaborative approach that identifies and maximizes both parties’ abilities, they engage in a surface-level tug of war over price, time, and scope. This ignores the most important aspects of solving problems together: the people and the approach.

Brands have been using RFPs for decades, but a complete overhaul of the RFP process is required for brands and agile product agencies to fruitfully collaborate.

How to Build an Agile RFP

The RFP should be structured in a way that encourages cooperation between the brand and its agency partner. Use these five elements to build your next mobile product RFP:

  1. Explain the problem. It’s important to begin by educating potential partners about the challenge you’re attempting to solve, not just the product you have in mind to address it. Chances are that potential agency partners have helped other brands solve similar problems, so consult them about the root of the problem before attempting to address the symptoms.
  2. Articulate product requirements. If you have a vision for what you want your product to do or features you think it should have, articulate that vision in the form of written requirements rather than ambiguous sketches or design comps. Vague ideas are better defined in written form than an interface sketch.
  3. Identify stakeholders and resources. With 55 percent of mobile apps being built with a mixed-source approach, it’s important for an agency partner to know what resources you plan to allocate to the project’s success. Agile product development also requires brands to commit decision makers’ time for rapid feedback and approvals, so potential partners must know which brand stakeholders will be involved in the project.
  4. Evaluate competencies. While an agency’s portfolio often showcases flashy, completed designs, a better measure of its competence is a product road map similar to the product you’ll be creating together. Examine iterative release schedules of the similar project to evaluate whether the agency can effectively plan and deliver product updates.
  5. Ask about the team and approach.Brands that simply ask for a timeline and associated costs ignore the most essential component of the project: the people behind it. Ask about the anticipated team, relevant experience, the proposed allocation to the project, and development styles.

By recognizing the realities of how agile agencies create mobile products, you’re much more likely to find the perfect product agency to partner with. So instead of sending out an inflexible RFP for your next project concerned with time, costs, and scope, focus your RFP on creating a highly engaged, mixed-resource team that can collaborate effectively. That’s how you begin the journey to a high-performing mobile product.

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Author: Kevin Jennings is the vice president of strategy at Fuzz.

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Kevin Jennings
Kevin Jennings is the vice president of strategy at Fuzz, a leading product agency based in Brooklyn, New York, that creates beautiful, usable products engineered to perform for brands including Forever 21 and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Kevin studied at Clemson University and has served as global strategy director for Ralph Lauren.
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