The Ultimate Developer Engagement

We’ve thought quite a bit about how to best align incentives in a product development engagement. We tried a bunch of things over the years, cataloged what worked, and relentlessly iterated. We’ve landed on what we believe to be the fairest and most sustainable deal for our clients.


Clients prefer predictable costs. In software that could mean bills linked to project milestones, i.e. “pay-per-delivery”. In addition to being transparent, a pay-per-delivery engagement ensures that developers share the client’s interest of velocity.

But pure pay-per-delivery creates perverse incentives too. If the development team invoices only after creating targets and milestones, then they’ll “move fast” during planning. And that’s precisely the worst time to cut corners.

Measure twice, cut once

Do you want the best bang for your buck?

The most meaningful gains in software engineering occur before the first line of code. Having worked on over 50 products with a dozen different development teams, we’ve seen an afternoon of brainstorming save hundreds of man-hours more than we can count.

Sometimes a bit of research uncovers a library, SaaS product, or pattern that solves a thorny problem perfectly. Other times, due diligence saves a long drive down a dead-end.

No matter the case, a comprehensive assessment makes magnitudes of difference.

Planning with K-Optional

If you believe that planning makes or breaks a project, then how would you craft the optimal contract?

The answer, we’ve found, involves splitting engagements into two phases: planning and execution. Each phase comes with its own set of deliverables and contract.

The planning phase

The objective of the planning phase is to create the most cost-effective proposal for actually developing the software. To borrow from Basecamp’s ShapeUp methodology, work is “up-hill” when it involves thoughtful project management, and “down-hill” when it resembles merely checking items off a list. The planning phase aims to knock out as much up-hill work as possible so execution is smooth sailing.

In practice, we’ve found the golden consulting-to-development ratio is around 12-1. That is, half of a week of up-hill planning paves the way for 6 full-time weeks of down-hill work. We actually spread the planning over an entire week, except part-time, to increase the chances for cost-saving ideas.

At the end of the planning phase, we deliver two documents:

  1. A development roadmap with timelines and estimates
  2. A report on the solution, the obstacles, and our consulting insights.

Though these materials lead nicely into our execution phase, you’re welcome to contract with another firm for development– the deliverables are as good as cash that any seasoned developer will easily understand.

The execution phase

The execution phase is self-explanatory; we simply knock out the deliverables you approved during the planning phase.

Some projects necessitate more than 6 weeks of work (one “sprint”). We’ll help you make this determination during the first planning phase; we’re open to multi-sprint projects.

Working for you

If you’re on the fence about contracting with K-Optional Software, let us know. We’d love to put you in touch with past and present clients so they can tell you what the experience is like.