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Development Agreement

A software development agreement is a contract between a developer and their client, where the developer agrees to produce a software application within a certain budget and timeframe.

Development processes can differ, depending on the scale and complexity of the project. However, no matter the size of the task at hand, the agreement should still cover important information, such as project timelines, key milestones, and payment details.

Here we take a look at this type of agreement from the freelancer’s point of view.

1. Why do you need a development agreement?

A written agreement is vital to the success of any freelance project. But it’s especially important for software projects, as it can also act as a roadmap. And when drafted correctly, it can help avoid bumps and detours along the way. 

If your client has an issue with the direction of the project, or if you believe your client is failing to hold up their end of the bargain, you can both refer to the agreement with a view to resolving the disagreement. This will ensure the project remains on course.

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2. What should you include in your software development agreement?

At a minimum, your contract should include the following information:

2.1. Your process

As stated above, software development can differ from project to project. However, there are a few common considerations, such as: agreeing to a specification; handling changes to the specification; development timetable; and client involvement. Your process should be outlined clearly from the get-go.

2.2. Project milestones

For each deliverable, you should have a milestone. That way, your client isn’t kept in the dark until everything is ready, and you have an opportunity to discuss progress and react to any changes to the project spec. 

2.3. Key responsibilities

Make it clear as to who is responsible for what in this project. If you need access to existing software from your client, or someone else is responsible for providing the content to populate the application you’re developing, this needs to be immediately clarified to avoid delays.

2.4. Intellectual property

If you’re developing a custom solution, who owns the copyright once the job is completed? Will you grant a license, or assign the rights over to the client?

2.5. Payment terms

  • Are you being paid a flat fee, an hourly rate, a retainer fee?
  • How much?
  • How often?
  • When is it due? 
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3. Our top tips for writing a winning development agreement

If you're ready to put together a professional development agreement, check out below three easy steps to certain success:

3.1. Don’t skimp on the details

Developing a new piece of software for a client can be exciting, but it’s not without its challenges. That’s why you need to ensure both you and your client are on the same page from day one of the project. You can’t leave anything to chance, as even the smallest misunderstanding could set the project back, costing you time and money. 

When drawing up your agreement, be painstakingly clear throughout. If you need software access or information by a certain date to progress the project on time, highlight this. If you need client feedback before moving onto the next stage, put a timeframe to it (e.g. 48 hours after the version was shared). 

Avoid ambiguity and aim for precision; just as you would when writing the code! Speaking of which…

3.2. Clarify what happens to the source code

We touched on Intellectual Property (IP) above, and it’s vital that you and your client come to an agreement over who owns what when the project concludes. But there’s also the question of what happens to the source code. 

To answer that, you need to make it clear how and where the code will be securely stored, how it will be backed up, who is for responsible for backups, and who can access it. This is especially important if you choose to grant a license to use the code, as opposed to assigning the rights to the client.

3.3. Don’t offer support & maintenance as an afterthought

You might be tempted to roll support and maintenance into your development agreement, but there’s an argument for keeping it to a separate contract. 

Software development is evolving at a rapid pace. If you add support and maintenance to your contract as an afterthought, you could be contractually on the hook every time your custom software needs an update in order to continue working.

With this in mind, it’s better to offer an entirely separate agreement; one that’s highly detailed around the services and obligations related to support and maintenance. This will allow you to set boundaries and expectations surrounding these tasks, without turning your initial contract into an unwieldy, text-heavy document. 

After all, the last thing you want is to be left responsible for maintaining software long after the project is concluded — especially if the working relationship becomes strained.

Follow these tips and make sure your next software development agreement helps you deliver your project on time, on budget and hassle-free.

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