How to get the most from your retainer agreement

Ben and James discussing the continuous support and maintenance of a client's app

In this blog we’ll uncover the mystery of retainer agreements; what are they used for and what are the benefits of having one?

At Brightec retainer agreements are used to partner with clients for the continuous support and maintenance of their apps. These agreements are a great way to guarantee the client a set amount of time each month depending on the size of the agreement. They are usually implemented following the release of an app after the main project work phase is complete. Retainer agreements could be as small as 1 day a month or larger agreements for several days a month. At Brightec, 1 working day reflects 7 hours of effort.

Retainer agreements at Brightec also allow the allocated retainer days to be rolled over into the following month, with a maximum of 3 months carry over. Clients may save up their monthly allocation of time for a slightly larger piece of work in a later month. So if you have a 2-day Retainer agreement, you could build up to 6 days to use in one go.

The retainer commonly covers bug fixes, feature amendments, App Store deployments, design and feasibility investigations. Retainers are not intended for developing a major feature but may be used as a supplement if needed in certain circumstances.

Click here to read more about our app development projects.

What does a month in a retainer agreement look like at Brightec?

The Product Manager (me in this case) meets with our clients every month to establish the desired work for the month ahead. I’d usually start by outlining what was achieved in the previous month and where we currently are with work. I would also outline any minor issues that we may have found in QA if it was required. In the very rare situation of the issue being urgent, this would be dealt with sooner and communicated via email/slack or video call.

We always aim to take a proactive approach and suggest recommended work that would achieve the most value to the client, but equally, this is also a good chance for clients to raise any concerns or talk about new desired work. Once we have established priorities and what work specifically will be done this month I would take the information away for the next step.

Our retainer projects are managed using agile methodology. After the monthly call, I review the specification of work with one of the engineering team to accurately estimate the size of the tasks ahead. Once we’ve established the level of effort required to deliver the work it can be scheduled into an upcoming sprint plan for the design and engineering team to progress.

Once a quarter, our Head of Product will also join the monthly call to discuss how the agreement is progressing and help to establish a longer roadmap for the product. It also provides a space to discuss any upcoming larger pieces of work that would fall out of retainers. These quarterly meetings mean we are always looking ahead, ensuring the future of the apps and delivering great experiences for their users.

What processes are in place to progress a retainer task?

Once the plan is in place, the work can begin.

At Brightec, we use Jira to manage all our client work. It enables me, as the Product Manager, to monitor the work's progress and easily report this to the client. We use a time tracking software, Harvest, to log the time spent on every project. In the event of any spare retainer time each month that is carried over into the next month.

Say for example the client asked for a feature enhancement such as being able to send in-app messages to specific groups of users rather than just all of them. To start with, any necessary design work would be completed. The client is responsible for providing any required assets or data to allow the work to be progressed and completed. Afterwards, Development work will usually begin. Our design and development team collaborate with the client to progress tasks through the various stages of development.

Once work has been completed, Brightec carries out basic QA. To ensure our practices and standards are maintained all code written is peer reviewed and then passed over to the QA if needed.

Once Brightec’s QA is complete the release candidate build would then be passed over to the client for them to conduct their own testing. Release notes would also be sent with the build, these usually detail all bug fixes, performance improvements, and any new features that are included. The client’s testing is usually completed in an agreed timeframe. On confirmation from the client that the release candidate has been approved we will then get the release ready to go live. The client can then click publish when they’re ready or instruct us to do so on their behalf.

Click here to read more about the role QA plays in app development at Brightec.

What are the benefits of having a retainer agreement?

The main advantage for a client to enter a retainer agreement like this is that it enables us to guarantee them a set amount of days and hours each month. This brings stability and consistency to the client.

Retainer agreements might seem a bit risky; the idea of having all that time and not knowing what to fill it with. But well planned, they can be a brilliant way for clients to get great value and build long-term working relationships.

Brightec has used retainer agreements for over a decade now, helping us establish long-term relationships with many clients. They have enabled us to quickly get fixes out and scope future work, ensuring the app continues to develop and provide a stable, useful and enjoyable experience for the user.

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