Searching for a good software development partner & firm can be a daunting process. Entering the marketplace, you will likely be overwhelmed with the sheer number of firms offering their services. With them touting their ability to create the absolutely perfect piece of software that will change the way that you handle every aspect of your business.
The money typically involved with creating high-quality software draws many into this field. As a result, you often end up dealing directly with the sales team. Who knows little about the nature of the actual technology involved in the process, leaving you with some challenging and intuitive choices to make. The stakes in quickly providing high-quality software are crucial to your business’s success. And getting it right the first time is extremely important to you and your brand.
We have assembled a list of steps to help you choose the right development partner to transform your business ideas. And plans into solid results, all with the highest quality and within your budget.
1. Do they understand the requirements?
Going out to analyze vendors with an RFP (Request for Proposal) that lacks a detailed PRD (product requirements document) is the primary catalyst for a detrimental engagement down the line. When there is a lack of details, there is a high possibility of under-bidding, which could lead to missed deadlines and a frictional relationship. Establishing clear expectations can drastically improve hiring the right vendors, and having a detailed PRD is crucial to overall success.
Understandably, clients may not know the requirements and would want to explore the market to analyze a potential product fit. In these cases, it is better to execute a separate Discover Phase, either internally or with the help of a vendor. I have created another post to explain why a particular discovery phase is essential in a large project.
Creating a PRD is not complicated if you know what you want in detail. You can find a good article here. Invest as much time and effort as it takes to make this while not forgetting to collaborate internally with multiple team members and stakeholders.
Once you create the PRD and have communicated that to the vendor, it is essential to have multiple calls or meetings before submitting the bid to verify that the vendor understands the requirements and engages in a creative conversation with you.
2. What products and services do they provide?
One thing you should do before picking a software development firm is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
- Do you understand what their services are?
- Can they create something that will suit your needs?
Some vendors specialize in specific verticals and technologies, and some can provide services in a wide range. To avoid potential project delays, it is essential to align your needs with the vendors’ services. Of course, you will need a demonstration of technical expertise just like you would expect from a high-quality software development firm; however, just like your customers or clients, you will also need to demonstrate a solid ability to communicate what they can do for you.
3. What does their past work look like?
Past accomplishments are a strong indicator of future success.
An obvious first step is to look over a client’s portfolio of past work. Please pay close attention to what it is they provide. Most agencies will showcase items that highlight their best skills. They will, however, likely not list everything. While this is certainly not always the case, there may be instances where they may not be proud of some of their previous work. However, just because it is not listed does not mean it is inadequate or non-existent. Some materials cannot be shown due to either NDAs or a wish to maintain a client’s privacy. In fact, not showing materials for some companies may be a sign of professionalism.
Many agencies will list some of their past clients, mainly if their work does not show in their portfolio (due to NDAs or other reasons). Here you can get an idea of the types and sizes of companies they have worked for. Some firms work with non-profits or governmental agencies; others work solely with large Fortune 500 companies. In contrast, others have much experience with smaller companies. You will be able to get an idea if the work they do fits well with your business or organization. If you are a small to medium-sized business, it is essential to realize that if the firm lists large companies only, the cost or style may not work well for you.
One of the best ways to identify whether a firm is reputable is to see whether or not they provide testimonials or feedback from past clients. This should give you some good insight into how an application development company views its past clients. Good agencies tend to elicit positive feedback; people are often willing to say something nice about a firm with which they have had a positive experience, such as their professionalism, support, and willingness to work carefully within a client’s needs.
A reasonable effort is to ask them if they have a list of past clients, including contact information, so you can contact them directly to get an honest account of their experiences. Legitimate firms will often provide this on request. If the agency balks at this request, ask them why (though there may be some good reasons, such as NDAs, etc.).
4. Are they well-suited for your organization?
Compatibility with a development firm is important. Here are a few ways you can help identify whether you can work together with an optimal level of success
Much like software which must interact with end-users, the ability of a firm to be able communicate efficiently and swiftly with youis extremely important. If you notice an inability of the firm to be able to articulate your business needs and the goals of the software back to you, it is a bad sign. It potentially means that the firm is not going to adjust to your changing requirements and expectations down the line or that it would be missed. You intuitively understand your own needs; if they can’t communicate their software abilities and what they do back to you, how are they going to represent it to your end user? For this reason, communication skills are equally as important as the software itself.
Does the agency follow a standard for its development processes? Do they employ SDLC (Software Delivery Life Cycle) workflows? Do they use Agile?
While it may seem strange to ask a client, it is essential to find out if they have adopted any standard process or standards. These mean more than simple buzzwords. Using industry-approved methods drastically increases a firm’s ability to finish projects within specified time frames and budget guidelines. They may not all use Agile; however, not having any clearly defined project management strategy should be seen as a red flag.
Does the firm show a genuine interest in what it is you do? Do they take time to learn if they are not familiar with your product or service?
Of course, you are asking them questions, but it is essential to pay attention to whether they ask you any questions beyond what your budget is, etc. If they ask you questions, are they informed? Have they made any effort to understand your line of business? You can gauge a lot of this in an early meeting with the firm. Are they talking purely about their processes or asking questions about you?
A professional development firm should show genuine curiosity in what you do and may also provide suggestions regarding your product. That you may not have considered. It’s easy to find a firm that will do whatever you say; however, one that brings something else to the table specific to your line of business is extremely valuable. Conversely, you might consider a disqualifying factor of lack of interest beyond landing the contract.
Ideals and Work Ethic
Running a business or organization typically requires a strong work ethic; you would not be succeeding without it. You will likely want to have a firm that aligns with your code. If you expect yourself to meet deadlines, you will likely want a firm that does the same. This also includes honesty. If for some reason, a project cannot be fulfilled to expectations within a given time frame or budget, it’s better for everyone if this is clearly stated at the moment it becomes a reality. If you notice any wavering in this ethic in an agency early on, this may signify things to come.
5. Delivery Timelines
Do you have an immediate need to get a website launched?
You will want to ask serious questions about whether a firm can deliver what you need in the time you need it.
How complicated is your project?
Sometimes it may not be easy to understand what technical needs are required to be able to produce. What you request. Some firms may promise you things that may not be possible. This is a good sign if the agency asks you questions regarding prioritization. Which components need to be done immediately. It means that they believe in lean development and will assist you in going to market faster with a Minimum Viable Product. Sometimes all pieces may not be deliverable as quickly as you may want but may be able to help you achieve works within segments that may assist you in achieving your goals.
The size and expertise of the team
There are two components to the size of the team—the average length of the vendor’s team and the team size you need for your project. The latter is more important. Also, it is important because, sometimes, the vendor may have to scale up their team to have the talent and expertise specifically suited for your project. Remember the typical scenario of Man-Month, adding more people to a project may not speed up its completion (and may make the problem worse), but having proper processes in place will. A minor team with better methods can provide results that you would be amazed at. In due course, adding more resources to the “process” can improve the results.
Information about the team size is also important depending on the type of project bid. For both fixed-cost projects and especially for time and materials, it is good to know the following:
- Type of resources being allocated
- Are they full-time or part-time?
- If part-time, how many hours are worked during the week?
- Do they switch the full-time resources back and forth with other clients?
- How is knowledge being handled across the team to reduce risk and delays?
Project Management Strategy
Understanding how a firm manages its projects can help you identify whether it can meet your time constraints.
If you need a project to be completed quickly under clearly defined deadlines, look to companies that employ an Agile project management approach. This perspective isgeneratesigh-quality output in concise and measurable time frames. They should follow either a scrum or Kanban methodology. Some follow Scrumban, a mix of both worlds.
However, suppose you want a project to be complete and with no chance of any pieces needing immediate fixes (such as being familiar with financial companies under strict regulations). In that case, you may need to expect a longer time for the project to be completed and may prefer a company that uses a “waterfall” method.
Expense is always an essential factor. No matter how good a firm offers, if you cannot afford to spend what they request, it is a waste of both of your time.
However, don’t give up quickly just because you think you can’t afford to build a game-changer website. Look for a firm willing to adapt to your financial needs. Many good quality development firms can help you boil down your goals into something that can work well within a limited budget. You’d be surprised at the scalability.
You may be able to trade off some of the features but still provide your customers with an excellent experience. Similarly, you may not be as concerned with the “look” of a product so long as it has the features you need. A good firm is usually willing to brainstorm with you and help identify the areas that can benefit your company most significantly.
If you have a written Product Requirements Document (PRD), a fixed-cost bid is a better option to keep the budget under control. Time and Materials are a better option if you let your requirements evolve. A good vendor should be able to offer both based on your needs. Remember, in Time and Materials, all services are billable. Even if it is QA or Project Management, as opposed to fixed costs. These costs are usually absorbed in the development costs, which must include a buffer.
There can also be a combination. The initial MVP could be a fixed-cost build with the minimum clearance requirements and follow a time and materials from there onwards. In this way, you will have a chance to keep the budget under control and test the market – a fair win. If it is a large project and you don’t have a PRD, see why a separate discovery phase can help you in the long run.
You can also reduce cost with decisions to buy vs. build specific components of your product. There are many SaaS options out there that you can rely on for particular parts of your product. You should ask the vendor which of those can be used in your product. And which ones need to be custom-built if the cost-benefit analysis and technical feasibility align with your expectations. But instead of custom building that component.
Although not initially, hosting your product can get financially cumbersome down the line. Make sure to ask your vendor if they offer Cloud Optimization Services frequently to ensure there is no unnecessary spending on the cloud infrastructure.
7. Support and Maintenance
No matter how much effort is put into a project, there will invariably be support needs. Perhaps a valuable customer has requested a feature that you did not anticipate. Maybe a previously undetected bug has been spotted. Things happen in your application, and there are factors we have little to no control over. There are different types of support and maintenance to address these issues.
You will sleep a lot better at night knowing that somebody can take care of this for you quickly. And it is good to ask the following:
- How well-staffed is the firm for the support you need?
- Are they willing to be on call if needed?
- How do they assign the priorities to issues?
- What are the response times to the issues of different priorities?
- What is the escalation procedure?
- Do they have a Standard Operating Procedure setup for the operations of such support?
- Are they willing to operate within the communication channels you are comfortable with?
- How many layers do you have to go through before somebody fixes the issue?
Security is a significant factor in choosing the right support strategy. The vendor should be able to implement adequate security strategies and infrastructure in place to protect your data. Read more on DevSecOps to understand how the vendor incorporates this into their daily product development routine.
Depending on the size of the project and the type of bid (usually for fixed-cost proposals), a good quality vendor should provide you with a period for application. And cloud maintenance free of cost after the launch of the initial version of your product. If you need services beyond that, make sure to ask for them in advance. As you may get a fair discount based on the type and period of the services needed. Usually, the vendors provide these services on a retainer with time and materials billing. A clear picture of the development firm’s support after the project is crucial to your long-term success.
Although each of the above factors plays a significant role in predicting a good relationship with a potential vendor and the success of your project. It is better for you to assign your priority to each of the above and interview the vendors based on it. You may be able to forgo some factors if your higher priority ones are met. The reality is that some firms can certainly handle all of it and create a high-quality product. Arriving at a shortlist of them involves intensive effort. As quality software requires a significant investment, it is crucial for you and your business to ensure that you hire a firm. That will provide you with not only the software you have requested but software that will serve the real needs of your company.