Drupal Project Owner

Selecting the right digital agency for your project

As a project owner you are in charge of ensuring your project has the best chance of success. You have to start by getting the early decisions right.

One of the first challenging decisions a project owner makes on the road to project success is vendor selection. Who will you trust to work with your team and bring the project to life? Often when outsourcing it is difficult to know who is the best choice of vendor primarily because your team may not have the in-house technical expertise to suitably question and judge what the potential vendors are saying. This scenario typically leads to digital agencies being selected on areas in which you and your team are more familiar with rather than the skill gaps your team has...which is really the reason you are looking for a vendor in the first place.

DOES THIS SCENARIO SOUND FAMILIAR?

Jesse is a project owner for a large organization which has decided to redevelop their websites using Drupal as the platform of choice. Their current websites do not accurately reflect the brand or bring value to the organization. Jesse's organization has deep content knowledge as well as marketing specialists, copywriters, and designers on staff. Jesse puts together an RFP and sends it out to several web agencies. Jesse has follow up discussions with the agencies and is already seeing the options narrow down to two preferable web agencies. When the proposals come in Jesse looks intently at those two and sees the following:

Vendor A Proposal:

A beautifully designed sales deck which showcases the web agency in a positive, energetic, forward thinking light. Lots of group shots of people writing intently on glass walls, diagrams and charts add visual interest to flow the viewer from one slide to the next. There is an "about us" section with exposed brick, aluminum wrapped hardwood tables, and smiling trend setting individuals scattered across all the slides. Their services section states they are a "full service agency" who are experts in everything from WordPress to Drupal, SEO to SEM, copywriting to video production. Their process section talks about being agile and adaptive (complete with background shots of hoodie wearing teens doing parkour). In short their proposal is a visual extravaganza which wraps up with a slide giving you a fixed price for your project and a timeline which matches your requirements.

Vendor B Proposal:

You get a PDF with the same sections as vendor A minus the glass wall and hipster imagery. You also get an additional section which outlines the criteria of your project, the vendor's understanding of both the user and your organization's goals, and a detailed breakdown of options to achieve project success. They are a Drupal focused development driven digital agency. The focus of this proposal is your project rather than the web agency itself. They outline the challenges your project presents and reference similar challenges they have solved on other projects in the past. Their pricing is broken down by into line items for each phase and known requirements and summarized as an estimated range for the total amount based on assumptions they have outline. Finally, it is 'time and materials' based estimate rather than a fixed price. 

The above scenario is very common and almost all of the time vendor A gets the nod of approval regardless of the actual needs of the project. 

Why Does Vendor A Win?

Regardless of whether vendor A is actually a better fit for the project or not they are typically awarded the contract because:

  • People make decisions on what they know.
    • The proposal is designed well and has an excellent look and feel
    • All the buzzwords are present
    • It speaks to the process knowledge of the reader
  • Perception is the promise of reality
    • "If the proposal looks this great imagine just what they can do with our project!"
  • People are risk adverse
    • It is the safer (read "easier") option sell up the chain of command

Which Vendor Should Really Win?

That is the million dollar question and if you get it wrong could very well be the million dollar mistake! So, let's start off by clearing up one point; there is no constant answer as the correct choice of vendor depends on the needs of the project. Using the scenario above we will explore the path to selecting the correct digital agency.

DIGITAL AGENCY SELECTION CRITERIA

The key is to match the project requirements with the vendor capabilities. With that in mind ask the following:

  • What services do you actually require?
    • Ancillary services may indeed carry some weight but don't confuse breadth of knowledge with depth of knowledge
  • Does the proposal speak to your project requirements?
    • If you state the platform of choice is Drupal then you want to understand the Drupal skillset of the vendor. The fact they offer development across a multitude of platforms does not add value but rather decreases the likelihood of a deep skillset in the area you need.
  • Does the proposal show understanding of the problems which need to be resolved?
    • You don't need answers at this point (if fact answers without a discovery phase is a red flag) but you do want to understand the vendor grasps what it is they are providing a proposal for.
  • Is the price and timeline fixed?
    • Everyone wants a price and timeline but at this stage (prior to any discovery) there is often no way a vendor can accurately predict the scope of the project well enough to provide absolutes. What you should reasonably expect is an estimate (or even better an estimated range dependent upon variables) based on defined assumptions.
  • Are there multiple line items presented?
    • You want more than simply "X dollars". The vendor should breakdown how they get to their estimate. Line items show the vendor understands the needs of the project, allows for customization where possible, and helps you as the project owner weigh up one vendor and their solution to that of another.

Using the guiding questions from above Jesse may well now decide on selecting vendor B rather than vendor A. The project didn't change but her vendor selection criteria certainly did. She now believes vendor B has the deeper Drupal development knowledge required to work with her in-house team to bring this project to success. Vendor B showcased a strong understanding of the problem, presented solution options based on their prior experience of similar project tasks, and delineated proposed solutions with estimated hours required and associated budget. Vendor B didn't have as slick of a proposal as vendor A but Jesse's project needs a very specific set of skills which (in addition to Liam Neeson) vendor B certainly has.

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