A web design and development studio

One of the more unusu­al aspects of our busi­ness is the sim­ple fact that we do not offer free esti­mates. Truth be told, it would be irre­spon­si­ble if we did. Our pro­pos­als are chock full of impor­tant infor­ma­tion and tech­ni­cal detail, all of which are required for us to be con­fi­dent in our pric­ing and time­line. It’s essen­tial that all par­ties take it seri­ous­ly and invest the time upfront the work calls for. If you choose to work with us in the end, grand! You will do so know­ing our val­ue before any devel­op­ment begins. If not, you will be armed with a bul­let­proof scope of work that can be bid on with confidence.

Now, allow us to explain ourselves. 

We are all human

One of the brain’s most quin­tes­sen­tial func­tions is that of a bull­shit machine. For sup­pos­ed­ly evo­lu­tion­ary rea­sons, each of us ware­house a vast and sophis­ti­cat­ed appa­ra­tus designed explic­it­ly for quick, deci­sive, and heav­i­ly ratio­nal­ized deci­sion mak­ing, near­ly all of which is biased in favor of meet­ing a fleet­ing, short-term need. In his book, Think­ing Fast and Slow, behav­ioral econ­o­mist Daniel Kah­ne­man calls this machin­ery Sys­tem 1. The inher­ent fea­tures of Sys­tem 1 make humans hor­ren­dous plan­ners, and help explain things like the recur­sive Hof­s­tadter’s Law, which states that work of suf­fi­cient com­plex­i­ty always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hof­s­tadter’s Law. It also explains why I enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly decid­ed to ren­o­vate a vin­tage 1950s trav­el trail­er one year ago and now want to scream every time I see it. 

While our tru­ly incred­i­ble imag­i­na­tions set humans apart from every oth­er crea­ture on earth, it’s our abil­i­ty to imag­ine any­thing that makes us dump­ster fires when it comes to pre­dict­ing long-term out­comes, espe­cial­ly when they are com­plex, as web projects tend to be. Tim­my and I have begun projects in dozens of dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions with all kinds of dif­fer­ent clients. We have spent far too many rest­less nights on the front lines of assump­tions, wit­ness­ing first­hand how they wreak hav­oc on a project. After years of pulling our hair out (I no longer have any), we decid­ed to put a process in place to mit­i­gate, as best we can, Sys­tem 1 and our nat­ur­al human natures.

For us, a project is nev­er more vul­ner­a­ble to poor deci­sion mak­ing and pop­u­lar bias­es than in the begin­ning. For instance, we are liable to over­look key omis­sions in require­ments if we feel it might kill the buzz of a new adven­ture (cour­tesy bias/​groupthink). We can over­es­ti­mate our abil­i­ties or those of the client (over­con­fi­dence effect). We may place an inor­di­nate amount of atten­tion on one aspect of the project at the expense of the rest (focus­ing effect). We may fail to plan for a cir­cum­stance that could hap­pen, but has not hap­pened before (nor­mal­cy bias).

We put a pre­mi­um on our pro­pos­als to cre­ate the space need­ed to be thor­ough, dis­ci­plined, and method­i­cal in assess­ing the work itself, tim­ing, bud­get, and risk. There is a pre­sump­tion that design and devel­op­ment is the real work, yet it’s prop­er plan­ning that will deter­mine the effec­tive­ness of the work that fol­lows. With­out the effort upfront, and the free­dom to be both curi­ous and sus­pi­cious of any and all assump­tions, we are doing the project a disservice.

Process

Our typ­i­cal pro­pos­al is much more than a price. Here’s what it will include. 

  • Expec­ta­tions and objec­tives: At this stage, we’ll be ask­ing lots of ques­tions. What are you attempt­ing to accom­plish and why? How will your suc­cess be mea­sured? What are your expec­ta­tions for the process, and what do you per­son­al­ly hope to gain? What are the most essen­tial fea­tures of what you’d like to build? Where can we be of the most val­ue to you?
  • Tech­nol­o­gy assess­ment: Here, we will dive in to your cur­rent tech­nol­o­gy plat­form, the capa­bil­i­ties of your team, and the short and long-term out­look of the project. Are you intend­ing on extend­ing your cur­rent plat­form or start­ing from scratch? What lim­i­ta­tions do you have? What advan­tages? Are you par­tial to cer­tain tech­no­log­i­cal choic­es? How about your team? Are there par­tic­u­lar lan­guages, back­end tech­nolo­gies, or prod­ucts your team relies on?
  • Require­ments doc­u­men­ta­tion: Hav­ing com­plet­ed the tech­nol­o­gy assess­ment, this stage aims to sum­ma­rize our find­ings in a con­cise and accu­rate set of short direc­tives that we can all agree upon. This doc­u­men­ta­tion out­lines every­thing the prod­uct must do, from the per­spec­tive of a user. They paint a com­plete pic­ture of the var­i­ous func­tions of what you are build­ing.

    You will like­ly come to us with require­ments already writ­ten up. Using our expe­ri­ence, we will bul­let­proof them. We will spot and fill gaps and errors, as well as iden­ti­fy shaky assump­tions or unnec­es­sary risk.
  • Strate­gic plan­ning: We will mod­el what we believe to be the opti­mal approach to the project, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion every­thing we have learned above. This includes an eval­u­a­tion of where the project stands, a sound tech­ni­cal approach, giv­en the require­ments, and an over­all esti­ma­tion of oppor­tu­ni­ties and risk. 
  • Esti­mate: To con­clude, we will pro­vide an esti­mate and a time­line for work. This esti­mate will incor­po­rate every­thing we have learned in the pre­ced­ing stages, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the com­plex­i­ty of the work and risk involved.

Accu­ra­cy

We care about accu­ra­cy. We metic­u­lous­ly track our time, across projects and fea­tures with­in projects, con­tin­u­ous­ly refin­ing our ideas of how long things will take. Accu­ra­cy, how­ev­er, requires a tremen­dous amount of tech­ni­cal detail, the depth of which is rarely reflect­ed in the scope straight from the client. Take for instance, a sin­gle web page like this one. Before pro­vid­ing an esti­mate, we will have con­sid­ered all of the following:

  • Do you have an exist­ing site (that might require redi­rects or backups)?
  • Is there exist­ing hosting?
  • Is a domain name already pur­chased (if so, who is man­ag­ing the DNS records)?
  • Is there an exist­ing SSL cer­tifi­cate (or does this need to be created)?
  • Is there an exist­ing code repo or ser­vice (like Github)?
  • Does it need to be eas­i­ly updat­ed (via a user-friend­ly admin pan­el for example)?
  • Are there any pri­va­cy con­sid­er­a­tions (no cook­ies, GDPR ban­ner, cook­ies banner)?
  • Do you want any report­ing on per­for­mance (Ana­lyt­ics for example)?
  • Are there any mar­ket­ing con­sid­er­a­tions (Ads for example)?
  • What device(s) is/​are it tar­get­ed for?
  • Are there any email require­ments (a newslet­ter sign-up for exam­ple, or error reporting)?
  • Are all relat­ed social account created?

The ques­tion inevitably fol­lows, Is this real­ly nec­es­sary?” We say yes, of course, and here is the rea­son: over­looked com­po­nents in web devel­op­ment have com­pound­ing effects across a project. The more uncer­tain­ty you inject, the more like­ly it is that this uncer­tain­ty will man­i­fest itself in longer than expect­ed time­lines, bud­get over­runs, and tech­ni­cal debt. 

When we give you pric­ing, we want that num­ber to be an accu­rate reflec­tion of both the effort involved, and a fig­ure that can be sup­port­ed and under­stood through the think­ing behind it.

Fair­ness

When deal­ing with projects that are both tech­ni­cal­ly com­plex, involv­ing mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers, often with com­pet­ing ideas of what con­sti­tutes a suc­cess­ful project, it’s unfair to the project, and we think the client too, to con­tin­u­ous­ly oper­ate under the premise of, Oh, we’ll fig­ure it out.” Unfair because wing­ing it often jeop­ar­dizes the project towards the end, when the client can ill afford it. And unfair because the cost of begin­ning work with­out a nar­row­ly defined scope of work and approach inevitably leads to unnec­es­sary bud­get over­runs and often inflat­ed pric­ing, nec­es­sary to absorb the risk.

Trans­paren­cy

Although it can seem like pay­ing for a pro­pos­al is an unnec­es­sary invest­ment, we believe that lay­ing all our cards on the table before any code is writ­ten is the best way to show you our val­ue. If you’re famil­iar with tech­nol­o­gy, you will know that it’s often not the mon­ey upfront that is the prob­lem, so much as it is tak­ing the leap with con­trac­tors or an agency that are unable to pro­duce what you expect­ed. After just a few weeks, you can eas­i­ly find your­self pot com­mit­ted, with enough work hav­ing been done and time spent doing it that you are essen­tial­ly stuck, hav­ing to move for­ward with the project, but nev­er feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly confident.

What we pre­fer to do is cre­ate a doc­u­ment that, regard­less of whether you work with us or not, has real val­ue. Some­thing that gives you con­fi­dence going for­ward. In the process of us writ­ing it, you see first­hand what we can bring to a project and what we may not. This requires a frac­tion­al invest­ment upfront. One we believe pays for itself rather quickly. 

Uncer­tain­ty

No esti­mate is ever per­fect­ly accu­rate. Whether it’s the ven­dor, the client, or both, some­one foots the bill for the inac­cu­ra­cy inher­ent in every esti­mate. While we will nev­er be per­fect, the inten­tion of this process is to reduce uncer­tain­ty to as close to zero as we can. When we do this, expec­ta­tions are met and what­ev­er inac­cu­ra­cies there are in the esti­mate have a mar­gin­al impact on the project. Unex­pect­ed events will always influ­ence a project, and the bet­ter posi­tioned we are to antic­i­pate and absorb them the more like­ly a project will be fin­ished on time and with­in the budget. 

In sum­ma­ry

Tim­my and I have been around the block more than a few times, and truth be told, it’s only through expe­ri­ence that we’ve decid­ed to insist on doing exten­sive pro­pos­als and require­ments doc­u­men­ta­tion before work begins. This does­n’t mean we can’t give you some broad ball­park fig­ures and rec­om­men­da­tions to start with. We’re hap­py to do that if it helps with your deci­sion mak­ing. We just know how com­plex web devel­op­ment can be, and how easy it is to over­look impor­tant details, even when you’re try­ing your best not to. 

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