When procuring custom software, your project scope is typically not going to be defined such that feature requests won't pop up mid-stream. First, writing a specification with this much detail is usually cost prohibitive, and second, you will likely discover new requirements in the field. For fixed-fee jobs to stay profitable, your integrator “must” overestimate both the time required to complete your task as specified and the time necessary to service minor scope creep (where the creep doesn't warrant a documented, funded scope change).
When there isn't any custom hardware design involved, time and materials (T&M) can be a simpler, more affordable alternative.
T&M relieves the burden on the customer to attempt to write an exhaustive specification before kickoff, mitigates risk, shortens the schedule, and generally costs less. With T&M, the scope is expected to grow, so a few key bullet points are usually enough to kick the project off. A loosely defined initial scope means the customer is involved at a lower level, earlier. This limits surprises upon completion. And, when there's no rigid scope to monitor, the customer pays for more productivity and less project management. Traditionally, the integrator invoices only the actual time used, and the customer is free to stop the project should funding change or should the integrator not deliver the expected quality.
It’s logical to wonder: "Doesn't T&M reward an integrator for working slowly?" Here are a few questions to ask before you enter into a T&M arrangement to foster accountability:
- Will I have access to the source code as we progress? If the integrator is regularly delivering the source code, then you have the option of walking away at any point. At Wineman Technology, we can provide an external link into our source code control repository giving the customer access to the latest source in real-time.
- Are you familiar with Agile? Agile development strategies focus on shortening time between milestones and delivering working software at each.
- Can we do a weekly teleconference to talk about the status and goals for the next week?
- Can you give me the names of a few companies who have recently worked with you on a T&M basis? If an integrator hasn't shown integrity, the word will be out in the community.
While due diligence nudges a customer to be involved in the process, the flexibility of T&M typically saves time, frustration, and money over the course of the project.
As a Certified LabVIEW Architect and project manager at Wineman Technology’s southeast branch in North Carolina, Jason has enjoyed learning and developing with LabVIEW for more than 10 years and is active in the LabVIEW community.