Software Contracts 101

Working with a software consultancy (often called a "dev shop") can be intimidating. As a researcher, you know that you need software that the dev shop claims they can provide, but you're not sure how to think about the actual contract negotiations.

If you've never worked with a dev shop before, you'll want to know what to expect before you pick up the phone. You might want to first read about the Top 5 Things a "Dev Shop" Should Deliver before reading this article.

Once you have had enough converation with the shop to feel confident in their ability to deliver the software you want, the software consultant will generally provide a detailed proposal that will include the following components:

  • a description of agreed-upon scope, which is all of the functionality to be delivered
  • an agreed-upon deadline of when the software will be ready for use
  • the total estimated cost (or even better, a fixed price)
  • some sort of language that describes how the cost and/or deadline might change if the scope changes after the contract is signed
  • assignment of intellectual property (hint: make sure you get to keep your own IP)
  • an agreement for post-delivery maintenance, such as bug fixes, security updates, and enhancements
  • language describing how either party can prematurely cancel the contract if necessary

Some contracts contain much more than what I can cover here, but you'll want to at least ensure that these essentials are covered.

To learn more, click here to learn about the two most popular approaches to negotiating with a dev shop.

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