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Quoting a Website

At PeaceWorks, our Development Services team works on implementing websites and web-based applications for our clients.  Some projects are small and are completed within weeks.  Other are large and take several months from start to finish.  For the most part our projects run smoothly, but, of course, there are also some challenging ones.

One challenge is working with clients who have unrealistic expectations about their project because they don't really understand the software development process.  

I hear you saying “Wait a minute.  If the client understood software development, then they wouldn't need to contract the work out in the first place.”  Please consider this analogy: even though you probably don't know how to build a house on your own, you probably understand something about the process of building a house.  You know that if you want to add that 3rd bathroom to your blueprint, you'll need to account for the necessary plumbing, too.  Knowledge of the process helps you understand timeline, costs and possible issues that may arise, and helps you work more effectively with your contractor.

In talking about the software development process, I want to address several questions which clients often have:

  • I want a website.  Why can't you just give me a quote?
  • You gave me a ballpark estimate, but now you're saying the costs will be higher.  Why?
  • Why isn't the project ready on time?
  • Why are there bugs?  Why do we have to pay for mistakes?

In this post, I'll just focus on the first question, and will come back to the other questions in future posts.

Instead of housebuilding, though, I'm going to switch to a different metaphor which is more appropriate to software development – we'll see how far I can stretch it.

Imagine you are writing a novel.  It's not your first one.  In fact, your first two novels – which you wrote on your own time and at your own expense – were so successful that now your publisher has asked you to write another.   The publisher has some definite ideas about what is wanted, so this time they're calling the shots – and they're going to pay you for your efforts.

They've provided you with some of their thoughts and ideas – a murder mystery set in Spain.  In fact, they had a whole smattering of ideas – who knows how many of which, once they see them, will actually make it to the final draft.  Now they want to know how much to pay you.

But how can you possibly quote this?  You know roughly how many pages they are looking for.  But you know it's not just a matter of filling pages – the book has to be interesting, there has to be an intricate plot with at least a few good surprises, several well-developed characters and an engaging setting.  In order to quote this, you'll need to start to sketch things out – start to develop an outline of the plot turns, the characters involved, and become familiar enough with Spain (where you've never in fact been) that you can convincingly tell this story.  And it all needs to fit together well – the plot, the language, the culture, the characters and the setting.  Once you have a sketch in place, you've got a plan and have a rough sense for the time it will take to flesh it out.

As you begin to think about this, you recall that the publisher mentioned a specific character that is wanted in the novel.  There seems to be a specific vision of what the novel needs to have, but it was not expressed very clearly.  You'll definitely need to have further discussions as you work on that character, and make sure that your sketch matches the expectations.  How much time will that take?  Oh, and you'll need to budget for a trip to Barcelona.

As you can see, even the task of sketching out this novel at a high-level isn't a matter of a few hours.  The publisher has some clear ideas they want you to work with, so you'll need to spend time understanding and developing these ideas together with them.  It could easily take several meetings and days of work just to complete the sketch and arrive at a quote.

OK, I definitely stretched the analogy.  My apologies to anyone who actually knows about writing or works in publishing.  Nonetheless, I hope this was helpful in understanding the complexity of quoting a website.

Some websites are simple – such as advertising a small business.  It typically has some basic information on services/products provided, a few testimonials, some photos and contact information.  Such a site is not difficult to quote.  

At the more complicated end, the website could be an online donation system with real-time credit card processing supporting both Canadian- and US-dollar transactions, and which automatically stores the donation records into an organization's donor management system.  And, it needs to support monthly donations, too (don't forget that donors will need to update their credit card numbers when they expire – and they'll need to be reminded to do this).

In all cases, we can only provide a quote after we've spent sufficient time talking with our clients to understand what their expectations are, then developing a detailed plan.  Rushing or trying to skip this process will lead to issues with timeline, costs and quality – more on that in my future posts.

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At PeaceWorks, we know how to set up your organization with technology that drives your mission. Together, we define a technology vision for your organization and recommend the best ways to support that vision.

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We provide effective and affordable migrations, installations and upgrades that better manage your infrastructure. We focus on solutions that meet your needs, not solutions that are unnecessary or outside of your budget.

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We will design and create a new or enhanced on-line presence. We work with you through the entire process to ensure you get exactly what you need for the present, as well as the future. We build our websites with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and accessibility practices, customizing as required.

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We collaborate with you to create solutions that turn ideas and data into information that you can use, analyze and distribute.  We build the technology solutions that equip you to better engage and manage your staff, your clients, your volunteers, and your donors.  We simplify data collection, intelligence and management.

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PeaceWorks provides the management and sale of hardware and software solutions. We always discuss your needs and provide you with the most preferable options.

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PeaceWorks provides first-rate technology solutions that enable organizations to achieve their mission with increased ease and efficiency. We focus on genuine client-focused relationships, connecting client needs with sustainable and reliable technology solutions.
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