Planning to write an RFP for your mobile app? Here is the RIGHT way to do it

New developments and trends continue to appear in the business world as the global economy witnesses ups and downs. The new approaches that companies adopt while managing business relationships (and the changes that take place as a result) affect the process of request for proposal (RFP).

This article is focused on the best practices that you can follow while creating an RFP.

What is an RFP?

An RFP serves to invite all suppliers to submit proposals for a particular service or commodity, generally through a process of bidding. A company can leverage its purchasing power and negotiating ability with suppliers through the bidding process. The RFP process helps to clearly identify the benefits and risks upfront and strengthens the procurement decision’s structure.

Depending upon the industry, the RFPs can be quite complex requests for services and require a relatively longer time to respond to. Answers to RFP questions, information regarding compliance, pricing, and reference materials along with appendices are attached along with the document in response to an RFP. Quite often, the RFPs nowadays leverage technologies available online to manage bidding and responses.

Even as some information may be repeated in every RFP proposal or response, every RFP response is distinct and is required to meet specific needs of customers. From the buyer’s point of view, RFPs should be based upon the long-term and short-term objectives and strategies of the business and should provide detailed insight so that suppliers can provide a corresponding standpoint.

Keeping in mind that transparency objective, an RFP should be a well-documented and structured request, besides being concise. It should have enough space for questions, attachments and comments. Suppliers can deliver appropriate responses and develop value adding solutions if the RFP allows enough time to respondents to prepare and respond and is planned as a project.

The RFP should contain clear and weighted criteria for selection of vendors and the objectives of the customer-side decision makers, along with complete and clear expectations from prospective customers. Additionally, it should provide clear contact details and instructions, besides a roadmap of the work described and sample deliverables.

Best Practices to follow while writing RFP for your next mobile app

We have decided to compile a summary of best practices to highlight the questions you can ask to get the most suitable responses and estimates of pricing for your mobile project. However, these are just guidelines and require customization for every mobile app project you consider. These should prove to be a helpful starting point.

1. Project Purpose/Summary – The objective of this section is to provide responders enough context for them to propose complete and real solutions.

  • Problem Summary: This focuses on the core business problem that the mobile solution is designed to address. It describes the app’s end users. It also describes whether it is part of a project that may involve non-digital or desktop components or is a mobile-only solution.
  • Available Solutions: Besides the solutions that have been considered, this covers the market or strategy research conducted up to that point of time. It analyzes the currently acceptable solutions and those that were rejected due to various reasons.
  • Devices and Operating Systems: This covers the operating systems and devices selected and the reasons for selection. This involves a choice between native apps and the mobile web and whether the decision is final. It also covers the suggestions/thoughts that you may be interested in receiving from the responders.
  • Stakeholders: This is concerned with the project leaders, other stakeholders and each one’s level of involvement. This also takes into account the budget and its source of funds, besides the final decision makers.
  • Objectives and Required Outcomes: This is concerned with quantifiable goals such as the financial model, in addition to qualitative goals such as support for a particular brand image. The potential costs of failure, such as missing timelines, or delivering a bug-filled, slow or poorly designed app, are also considered. The manner of measurement of objectives, along with the frequency of measurement, are of significance.
  • Assimilation: This is about the data sources/back end systems that the mobile apps will have to interface with and whether those systems exist currently. If the systems exist, you can provide access to the agencies to review the feeds/application programming interfaces (APIs) as part of the RFP process. If they don’t exist, you have to consider the process and timeline for developing these.

You also have to decide whether to ask the agency to help with the architecture or development of the feeds/APIs.

  • Target Timeline: The targeted date for the launch of the app and the drivers of that target are taken into consideration here. Other dependencies for the date are also considered.
  • Budget: The responses you receive improve significantly if you are open about your budget range. Each project has a degree of customization/polish and an option range that considerably affect the final price. If you leave the budget open, you will have a broad range of responses and possible solutions to the project. However, you will also have less of a basis for making quick comparisons.

You should be able to find out which agency is the best option for your budget range and not allow the mobile agency to dictate your budget. Setting a budget range will help you to know how far each agency will go within that range. On the other hand, if the budget is open, you might receive proposals with massive differences in the quoted prices (but with differing approaches towards the task). That is why you should provide a budget range and look for the best offer within that range.

You can let responders know that offering a solution towards the bottom of or below the range will increase their chances of getting selected.

  • Criteria for Decision: This describes the criteria you will rely on to make a choice and how you rank the criteria.
  • Timeline: initial distribution of the RFP; submission of questions by responders; replies to the questions; concluding submissions.

2. Mobile Agency Capabilities and Background – Your chief objective here is to make sure you reach out to an agency that can creatively solve problems faced by your business, offer numerous design options and provide an elegant, fast and stable mobile experience within your budgets/timelines. You also have to ensure that the partner you select is not difficult to work with. You can compare the agencies you are communicating with on the following bases:

  • History/summary: This is concerned with the agency’s history from its beginning, in addition to members of the executive team and their respective backgrounds. This also covers the agency’s mission.
  • Differentiating factors: This covers the ways in which the company distinguishes itself from its competitors.
  • Portfolio: This asks the responders to encapsulate their top-ranking mobile projects, besides the problems they were trying to solve and make available to each (if available publicly).
  • Process of hiring: This asks the agency to summarize its process of hiring as you are purchasing the capabilities of its team and it is significant to comprehend the process of its creation.
  • Mobile technology and design assessments: This part of the RFP provides you with insights into the thought process of the agency and the way it approaches projects.
    • Ask the responders to make a design and code assessment and provide a few suggestions for improvement, if you currently have a mobile website or app and you ask them to provide feedback on that.
    • If your competitors have mobile websites or apps but you don’t, ask the responders to carry out a design assessment of a few mobile websites or apps and request them to provide details regarding what they like and what they would approach in another way.
    • If you have already created designs or initial wireframes, you can ask for feedback from the agencies, after they have reviewed the designs or wireframes. They might come up with some good improvements that you can then implement. In any case, you will find out about how well they can think.
    • If mobile systems dovetail with back-end systems already in existence, which they almost always do, you should ask for the agencies’ feedback on whether they would be able to work with the existing systems or would like to suggest some changes.
    • Capabilities in Design:
      • Ask about the number of full-time staff employed in the agencies’ design team, as well as the number of subcontractors, freelancers and part-time employees.
      • You should ask about the locations of the subcontractors, contractors and employees. Additionally, you should know if any work will be done by offshore freelancers or contractors and, if that is the case, how many of them are there. Since you are likely to achieve better results from well-integrated teams that are collocated, as shown by research done by Forrester, you should know whether any of the agency’s employees work from remote locations.
      • Find out whether you will be able to communicate directly with members of the agency’s design team.
      • Ask for a brief resume of the agency’s design head.
      • Also ask for brief resumes of 2-3 members of the design team, out of whom not less than one will work on your project if it were to commence immediately. This should give you a fair idea of kind of designers employed by the agency.
      • Enquire from the agency about the tools used to communicate with the team on a daily basis.
      • Ask the agency to explain the problem, the approach taken to solve it and the result. Ask them to provide examples of design engagements with similar mobile functionality and experiences.
      • Ask them for examples where different versions of apps were created for tablets and smartphones.
      • Request an example of where the design team made the mobile experiences considerably different among the mobile web, Windows, Android and iOS.
      • Capabilities in Development:
        • Find out the number of full-time employees who are part of the agency’s development team and classify them according to operating systems such as DevOps, Android, Mobile Web and Windows and also take note of employees working on more than one OSs. Also find out about subcontractors, freelancers and part time employees working on development or related tasks.
        • Find out the locations of the subcontractors, freelancers and employees and whether any of the work will be done offshore by freelancers or contractors. Also find out if any employees work from remote locations. Since you are likely to achieve better results from well-integrated teams that are collocated, as shown by research done by Forrester, you should know whether any of the agency’s employees work from remote locations.
        • Ask whether you will be able to communicate directly with the agency’s development team.
        • Ask about the tools that you can use for communicating with the development team on a daily basis.
        • Enquire about the backend or DevOps capabilities of the agency, if you are going to ask them to help with developing, modifying or integrating backend systems. Additionally, you should know about the frameworks or languages used by the agency. Also, ask them to explain a few similar engagements, besides the solution delivered and the problem solved in each case.
        • Ask the agency to provide brief resumes of 2-3 members from every platform or OS team, at least one of whom would be allocated to your project, if it were to be started immediately.
        • Ask the agency to outline a development engagement, with timelines and deliverables, from the beginning to the end.
        • Enquire about the approaches the agency uses to make sure that the software is of high quality and has no malicious code. Also enquire about how the agency makes sure that the documentation is best in class.
        • Find out about how the agency manages the utilization of open source or other libraries that could compromise the intellectual property of the final product.
        • Ask the agency about how they ensure security of code and client materials.
        • Ask them to share 3-4 development engagements that offer considerably similar functionality or mobile experiences. They have to provide information about the problem, the approach taken and the result.
        • Quality Assurance (QA) Process
          • Find out from the agency about the subcontractors, freelancers, part time employees and full time employees form part of the QA team.
          • Ask about the location of the QA team members and whether any of the work would be done by freelancers or freelancers. You should also know if any of the agency’s employees work from remote locations.
          • Find out whether you will be able to communicate directly with members of the QA team.
          • Ask for a brief resume of the QA head.
          • Also ask for brief resumes of 2-3 members of the QA team, at least one of whom would be assigned to your project if it were to start immediately.
          • Ask for a weekly summary of the QA process, from the beginning to the end.
          • Find out about the tools to use to communicate with the QA team on a daily basis.
          • References: Ask for references of customers for whom the agency has done similar projects.

3. Project Proposal – The objective here is to make the mobile agency help you comprehend their thinking, be interested in meeting your budgets/timelines, put their thoughts in a proposal and understand the needs of your business.

  • Project Concept and Recommendations: Seek feedback from the agency regarding your mobile web/app concept about what they find good or bad about it and whether you should go for mobile web apps or native apps or both.
  • Other Projects: Ask the agency about other apps which they might have created and the mobile experience they may have created in the same or a related space to your own mobile/web apps.
  • Examples of Work Done: Ask for examples of work done previously regarding all major functionality of the project. If the agency doesn’t have some proposed functionality, ask them to describe their approach.
  • Project Approach: Ask the agency as to what according to them will be the significant risks or variables that could lead to failure/risks on the basis of your goals. Also ask them about the likely drivers of consumer adoption and use and the management of risk.
  • Budgets/Timelines:
    • Ask the agency to provide an initial launch timeline.
    • Also ask them to propose a fixed as well as time and materials budget.
    • Request them to include an approach towards ongoing optimization and updates. Ask them to suggest the frequency and staffing of updates. Also ask them about emergency fixes and the ideal budget.
    • Dimensions, Analytics and Ongoing Improvement and Management of Apps: Gone are the days when you could launch a mobile website or an app and provide half-yearly updates. Mobile now involves consistently analyzing and making improvements, which is all about constant revision and improvements.
      • Ask the agency/partner about how analytics or measurement will be set up.
      • Enquire about the metrics that should be measured and how to move forward towards continuous improvement.
      • Seek an estimate of the budget for continual review of data and the implementation of improvements as a result.
      • Ask about the tools the agency would use and who would carry out what roles.
      • Instruct them to provide 2-3 examples of similar projects with ongoing work based on performance improvement/analytics.


Before sending out your RFP to various mobile agencies/prospective partners, you have to ensure that it contains the right questions so that you can obtain comprehensive proposals containing all the relevant information you require for making a decision.

Amit Manchanda

About the Author

Amit Manchanda is working at Net Solutions as Project Lead and has over 9 years of experience in technologies like ASP, Adobe Flex, and Android. He has been part of SME (Subject Matter Expert) Group for RIA applications. He possesses a sound understanding of technical requirement/problem analysis and resolution for providing the best solutions to clients. He is passionate about his work and enjoys interacting with his team. In his leisure time, he loves to listen to music, watch cricket, and play with his daughter.

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