MVP Outsourcing: Writing a Request For Proposal

This is a post in our series about outsourcing a digital Minimum Viable Product to test the viability of your idea with real customers. This could be a good read if you're looking to build an MVP for your startup or enterprise.

In the previous post we looked at how you can scope your product using user stories. Today's topic is writing a request for proposal (RFP). This is the document you will be sending to potential outsourcing partners.

The purpose of the RFP is to describe the services you're looking to acquire in detail. You'll want to include your scope document as an attachment as well.

Next, we will go over the key sections a killer RFP should cover. Get your word processor warmed up!  

1. Project overview & background

This is the standard start, where you give an overview of your project and some background info. You should tell a bit about the project, your company, why this project being done and an overview of the goals.

2. Project goals and target audience

Explain what you plan to accomplish and what will be the expected outcome of the project. You should also describe of your target audience as this will help the vendor to understand requirements better. 

3. Scope of work

The Scope of work describes the services you're looking to purchase. This will be the design and development of your MVP as well as any additional services you might wish to purchase. For example, you might want to include a landing page and a hosting solution on top of the design and development work.

4. Scope of product & technical requirements

Here you'll want to reference your scope definition document that describes your product. In addition, you should describe technical requirements of your project. E.g. device/browser support and testing, future scaling needs and a use of a viable technology stack for going forward.

One important MVP-specific technical requirement is tracking. The purpose of an MVP is to gather learnings about your users. You should have a way to track what your users do. This could go from a simple Google Analytics setup to a complex Mixpanel/Kissmetrics integration depending on your budget and needs.

This is a part where you should be looking for technical help to ensure things are in order. It could be a qualified friend or an outside consultant. In the full course, my RFP template includes some valid example technology stacks, with PROs and CONs listed. But still, every project is different and one size rarely fits all when it comes to building digital services.

5. Timeline

You should describe the timeline you'd expect to get the project done in. A smart strategy is to ask the vendor to divide the whole project into small deliverable parts and have a deadline and separate payment for each stage. This enables you to see how things are progressing and if the work is satisfactory without investing into the whole thing at once.

6. Point of contact

Here you will let them know who to be in touch with regarding the project and who has the final say on decisions. It is critical that your vendor has easy access to the person who can do the decisions.

7. Budget

Yes, you should really put in a budget - at least a rough figure. MVPs are like cars or houses. You can get a crappy one on the cheap. For a luxurious end-product, you'll be paying a lot more of course.

You should be up-front about how much you're willing to spend, this saves time on both ends. You won't spend time reading proposals that are too expensive for you. And on the other hand, vendors do not waste time writing proposal out of your budget range.

If you cannot trust your future vendors to not screw you over with pricing, maybe you are looking at the wrong vendors. Trust is a key part of a successful outsourcing project. If you don't have that from the start, then you're already going down a perilous path.

Additionally, having all offers come in with similar price-points makes it much easier to compare the offers. For example, someone might throw in a round of user testing whereas the other just offers the features.

8. Support/retainer

Once the MVP is launched, you will want to secure help fixing bugs, improving existing features or adding new ones. In the future, you might be looking to hire your own team to work on the product. But to support the MVP and facilitate the transition, you should have the option to continue the relationship with the partner.

9. Criteria for selection

You should let the vendors know what are the key criteria for selection. Depending on your specific situation this might be a combination of cost, timeline, previous experience from similar projects, demonstratable know-how in some specific area etc.

10. Format & proposal timeline

Here you should let the vendors know in what format and on what date you'd be looking to get the proposals in.

Now you have an understanding of what a comprehensive RFP could look like. Writing a great RFP from ground-up is no a small task. It could take you anywhere from four hours to a few days of work.

ps. If you're looking to outsource your MVP you might want to take a look at our course to save time and increase your chances of success: Flightplan: MVP outsourcing course