How We Quote Web Development Projects
Outsourcing software development can be stressful. Outsourcing agencies are notorious for their lack of transparency. No pricing on the website. You ask for a ballpark cost and all you get back is “it depends”, “anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million”, or simply no answer at all. When the quote finally does come, it feels like it’s pulled out of thin air. That’s no way to build trust.
At Thinklogic, we are all about building trust from day 1, which is the foundation of a working partnership. And that extends to being transparent about how we quote projects.
Web Development Projects Vary Greatly
There’s a reason web development agencies can be cagey about pricing: web development projects vary greatly. No two projects are alike. Unlike building a house, there is no cookie-cutter way to build a client website, especially enterprise websites that need to take into account years of legacy, varying content volumes and types, language, accessibility and security requirements unique to their industry.
It’s also rare to understand all of the unique requirements of the project from the first call. Clients may not think to mention certain details because they assume they are irrelevant, but sometimes a detail like “we need to be in full compliance with 508 accessibility” or “the website needs to support a legacy browser” can double or triple the scope of work involved.
But even though scoping is hard - a good web development partner should follow a consistent and transparent methodology on how they scope the work.
Initial Needs Assessment
Technology is always in service of a business need. We strive to understand the client’s business needs upfront, not just their technology specs. Why is this important to the client’s business? What is the client ultimately trying to achieve? What does the future roadmap look like? This context is invaluable for asking the right questions over the course of the scoping exercise.
We also need to understand upfront what type of project the client is asking Thinklogic to take on:
- Is this a platform shift of an existing website from a legacy CMS like WordPress or SiteCore to a modern platform such as Kontent.ai?
- Does it involve creating new content, new branding, new creative, new funnels?
- Does it involve a UX redesign?
- Does it involve developing new features, adding more languages, adding more devices and platform support?
- Are there industry-specific regulations to comply with? Or notable security requirements that go beyond standard best practices?
- Or perhaps it is a brand new website, in which case, how far along is the client’s plan for this new website? Do they already have a design and specification, or are they looking to Thinklogic to co-design from the ground up?
Finally, we discuss roles and responsibilities. Is Thinklogic taking on the whole project end-to-end, or simply providing certain expertise? Is the client supplying dedicated team members as well, and if so, what are their roles and deliverables?
Most Important Factors For Determining Web Development Cost
Let’s assume a client comes to Thinklogic asking for a straight port of an existing website to a new CMS. Here are the sizing factors that we would immediately look to ascertain:
- First we need to understand a client’s content. In particular:
- How many different types of content? We’ll talk more about this in the section below.
- How much content? Sheer volume of content also plays a big role.
- Next we look at the client’s web design. Is the design usable? Is the existing HTML and CSS code sufficient and already working properly, on required browsers, on mobile and other devices? Can we reuse a lot of that code or does it need to be re-coded? If it's done well, a lot of that can kind of be reused, a major “swing factor” when sizing a project.
- If we have to re-create the HTML and CSS, then the number of unique pages is a factor as well.
- What CMS is the system on today, and what is the target CMS and target version/license we are porting to? We’ll talk more about this in the CMS section below.
- Is there any custom functionality to be built, or re-built? Even when a client comes to us with a simple request to “lift and shift” their website to a new CMS, they almost always realize that if they are going to go to this trouble then there are some additional functions that need to be added or re-worked. Or sometimes re-work may be added just to accommodate the new CMS. Working with custom code requires specific development expertise, which can be a big part of quote.
If the client has documentation, this is very helpful for informing the factors above. We will set right away to analyze the documentation. If not, we may need to write requirements ourselves by using the existing system, assessing what it currently does, and then bringing back the list of all the functions that we found and ask the client to sign off on our scope assessment.
Content Types and Complexity
The first factor we list above is assessing “content types”. This is to understand how complex the different types might be. Example: an existing website might have a search box. It could be just a quick straight search that uses Google out of the box search. Or it could be like a very custom, complex search with sorting, filtering and comparison functions. Another example: a website might have a simple set of forms, or it could be like a whole system that manages SKUs and products and orders. Content types can include video, audio, blogs and other types of multimedia. Identifying the different content types helps identify the overall project complexity very quickly.
With Headless CMS like Kontent.ai, one of the first steps is upfront content modeling - determining the different types of content and their relationships to one another, which types are re-usable, which types are more specific versions of other more generic types, etc. It is similar to object-oriented programming design.
The amount of content and different types of content determines the time it will take to design this model, and then to migrate content to the model.
Determining CMS Costs
Once we get a sense of project scope from the questions above, we can now move to scoping the CMS scope.
First, depending on the target CMS we are porting to, we will work with the CMS partner to recommend the right licensing model. For example, Kontent.ai offers 3 tiers of licensing - Developer, Scale, and Enterprise - each with different features and at different costs.
Since Thinklogic works on a lot of large-scale enterprise projects, clients will often need the Enterprise license. Once again, the cost can vary depending on factors such as:
- How many content types, and what are they? What are the associated content volumes?
- How many custom roles?
- How much storage is required?
- How many languages are needed?
- How many environments?
- How many projects?
Enterprise licensing can be expensive. Sometimes even large web projects don’t really require enterprise licenses, depending on the factors above. We discuss options with the CMS partner and then present back our findings to the client, with a recommendation of which license option makes most sense and why.
Transparency and Flexibility Are Key
A complete scoping assessment can involve:
- Documenting the business goals and corresponding scope of work that we’ve understood in detail, including in some cases requirements documentation, assumptions and limitations
- Documenting the options and recommendations in terms of target platform, such as the licensing options for the target CMS
- A detailed breakdown of timeline, costs and options associated with this scope.
For Thinklogic, transparency is key to building trust with a client, so expect us to check in frequently along the way with updates and questions. Transparency is also key to getting an accurate quote: if we are continually feeding back what we’re hearing and uncovering to the client, it gives the client a chance to correct our understanding at each step along the way, ensuring that we’re always on the same page.
Flexibility is also key. Web development is nothing if not a series of choices and options. Different options for content, for UI flows, for cost savings. Whenever possible, we strive to provide multiple options that could meet a client’s business goals (including options that they had never considered!), but always with a recommendation based on our years of experience.
We invite you to call us with your project. You know our methodology, now it’s just about getting started.
We believe there is always a more efficient way
Thinklogic has a strong history of successfully developing and bringing to market hundreds of new web-based custom software applications. From concept refinement and business planning, to technology deployment and selling to the end-user, our team has expertise in both technology and marketing.
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