It’s natural to distrust representatives from firms competing for your business, no matter what that business entails. After all, you have conflicting interests: you want to get the best quality work at the lowest cost, while they want to charge you as much as possible for work that demands the fewest of their resources. So it’s also natural to be skeptical and impatient whenever you ask how much work on some project you have in mind will cost and hear in response, “It depends.”
“It depends” sounds a lot like “Just sign off on the project so we can charge you some exorbitant fee and justify it after the fact.” On the other side of the spectrum is the too-good-to-be-true scenario: the vendor promises a solution to all your problems at a fixed and reasonable price. But how can they be sure when they haven’t even heard about the details of the project?
The Custom Software Conundrum
The stakes for business IT projects are high, a high percentage of these projects fail, and one of the most important factors determining success or failure is your choice of partner. So the vital questions are:
How can you spot the firm that’s going to try getting away with scaling up the project until it becomes some runaway monster devouring every last departmental resource?
How can you spot the firm that’s going to show up, slap on some pre-fab application, and leave before you have a chance to tell them it doesn’t work?
The most common response to this conundrum is to concentrate on playing hardball in negotiations with prospective IT partners. You draw up a list of basic requirements for the application, press each of the firms vying for your business in turn to give you an estimate, and you use the lowest number that results as leverage to try to negotiate a still better deal. Unfortunately, it’s this approach that’s responsible for the high failure rate of IT projects. The problem goes back to that list of basic requirements, which is seldom anywhere near comprehensive enough to base a good cost estimate on.
The Custom Application Planning Paradox
Requirements-Gathering or Discovery Phases are the foundations of successful projects. Until you know precisely what you need from your application and how your workers will be using it, there’s simply no way to properly plan for its creation and implementation. That’s why those quick upfront quotes are so frequently way off the mark. So you need to know how much each IT firm will charge before you can decide which one to choose—but you need to choose an IT firm to perform the requirements-gathering before they can tell you with any accuracy what they will charge.
The way to get around this paradox is to ask, not what the project will cost, but rather how that cost will be determined. What goes into the firm’s hourly fees? What kind of experts do they have on staff to devote to your project? If a firm’s process for tailoring the software to meet your company’s specific needs isn’t sound, the low bid they make to win the contract won’t be worth anything. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make sure their process includes measures for controlling cost.
The general point to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a custom software provider is that asking about the process they apply to projects is more important than any figure they quote you based on a preliminary list of requirements. Download the white paper to learn what specific questions you should always ask and what specific answers you should look for.
I'm Aptera's Content Strategist. I've been writing about tech and marketing for 5 years and have certifications from HubSpot and The Content Marketing Institute. A big science and literature geek, I taught college rhetoric and composition while I was still busy going to school for way too long, earning bachelor's degrees in anthropology and psychology, along with a master's in British and American literature. Look me up on LinkedIn.