When it comes to finding a software development partner to work on your company’s projects, there’s no shortage of firms to choose from. If you’re not tech-savvy yourself, you might assume that many firms are all pretty similar, but this is far from the truth. Even if you are well-versed in technology, it can still be challenging because a lot of them have similar marketing.
So how do you decide? Well, apart from standard vendor selection items like cost, capability, past experience, skill set, etc. you will find the biggest indicator of success is a long-term partnership. The vendor needs to have the capacity to learn about your business, support your growth, and have the freedom to do their best work without constant oversight. How do you filter for that? Read on.
Five Must-Ask Questions When Choosing a Software Development Partner
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices of software development firms, you’ll need to vet each one to determine who is the right partner for your needs. Your shortlist may be made up of a group of great candidates with their own specialties, but your business is unique and the difference between a pretty good partner and a great partner can be large.
You no doubt have a list of project-specific and technology-specific points to discuss, but make sure to add these five questions to the interview and vetting process. The answers will help allay any fears cover everything from pre-project preparation to aftercare and help you find the ideal partner for your software development project.
1 – What sort of client engagement is ideal for your company?
By now, you must have a clear idea of the kind of company you want to partner with – one that is mature, partners for the long term, and can help grow with your business. But does your vendor see a client engagement the same way? Are they focused on execution? Are they more project-focused or client-business-focused? If you are building custom software, you need your partner to understand what is truly different about your business. Otherwise, you might as well use off-the-shelf software packages.
The first clue is whether they speak the language of software projects (short term) or business objectives (long term). Short-term project-focused vendors will answer this question with some version of “We will do what our clients tell us to do”. A long-term partner will exhibit high curiosity about how your business runs. They will ask deep, probing questions that get into your processes, organizational roles, how success is measured, and how this work will evolve over the next year.
Getting a better understanding of where the potential partner’s interests and expertise lie will let you see where your company’s development projects fall in their spectrum of experience and interest.
2 – How do you ensure quality and consistency?
Every vendor will boast about their quality of delivery. In order to find a truly exceptional partner, it helps to ask them to articulate what aspects of quality they are measuring and how they achieve it those benchmarks.
The first priority is ensuring the quality of the code produced. It can be unwieldy and inefficient to try and have an internal resource check all code for quality. Thankfully, the right methodology of development, deployment, and evaluation can serve as the right code quality assurance measures that you need. Second, your development partner should not just keep security top of mind but also have structure and process in place for addressing any potential vulnerabilities during the development process, not later on when fixing problems becomes more difficult and time-consuming.
Next, ask your potential development partner to explain how they adhere to standards and best practices in their development workflow. A proper methodology will have built-in frameworks for ensuring this compliance. Without such a structure you may find the resulting codebase to be less reliable, less secure, and less performant for the long term than you planned.
Finally, be certain to confirm that your potential software partner has a clear process in place for continuing to support any applications after they have been pushed to production. The evolution of your business and unforeseen use cases are a normal part of the business day; make sure that your software partner recognizes that the work is not finished upon launch. In fact, in many cases, the work is just getting started.
3 – What methodology do you use?
Does your potential partner have the maturity to understand not just your technology needs but also your business needs? Far too often we see talented software development firms that work without an understanding or context of the business outcomes they are trying to help drive. Understanding that excellent technical chops is only half of the equation, you should also ask about previous client engagements and what methodologies this potential partner uses.
If you are not familiar with methodologies around software development then we suggest taking a moment to learn about how different processes and workflows lead not only to different results but also different milestones and discoveries along the way. The right methodology from your partner can be the difference between a software project that simply connects the dots of known data points and a software project that understands and leverages those same data points in entirely new ways.
4 – Do they have the ability to do solution design and create maintainable product roadmaps?
Ideally, your business will thrive over time and you want to ensure that your technology can handle that growth. Whether you’re developing an app, a new website, or building a SaaS company from the ground up – can your technology handle a future increase in traffic, users, and data? How will your software partner address those issues and what is their long-term plan for building agile software that has the ability and agility to grow along with you? The right software development partner will design your projects with longevity in mind, so if they’re only thinking about your current needs they probably aren’t the best firm for the job.
You will have your own plans on the product feature list and what the UI looks like, but do you want to be overseeing all aspects of that engagement? As a client you must decide whether you want 1) to be the bottleneck to deliver perfectly thought out specification documents for the vendor to simply code, Or, 2) Is your organizational time better spent thinking strategically and getting the vendor to do solution design and you can simply pick from solutions options that meet your business objectives? The difference in workload and stress for your internal team between the two options is quite significant.
Efficiency and speed to market can be anywhere from 50 -100% greater if you can manage your vendor by giving them business needs and requirements instead of detailed specification documents.
5 – What challenges do you anticipate and how will you solve them?
It’s rare that a software development project goes off without a hitch – there are nuances to each business that your developer will need to consider and plan for and if they tell you that your project will go perfectly, they’re being naive or dishonest. Instead, the right partner will give you a frank assessment of where they’ll need to take extra precautions or where they see challenges arising during the development phases.
For example, if you already have an existing group of users, a challenge may be transferring their data to your new software without glitches or hassle to your customer. Or, if you have an eCommerce store, transferring inventory information may be a potential issue.
There’s nothing wrong with having challenges – that’s a normal part of any development project. What you want is a partner that will give you an honest assessment and provide a list of solutions upfront.
Bonus Question: Can this engagement lead to a culture shift within your own organization?
Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. This is especially true in a fast-changing world. You need to bring in new ideas, challenge existing thought processes and have a culture of innovation. This cannot happen only at the top executive or strategic level but needs to happen at all levels. A new vendor partnership is going to touch several individuals and roles in your organization. This opportunity to mildly challenge your own team to update mindsets set new expectations and generate new insights should not be lost.
This may be the highest hoop to jump through, but if you can find one with not just the right skills and ability to partner for the long term but with a culture that pushes your own team forward then you may have found “the one”.
How do you know? Ask about their internal culture. What does it mean to them? How do they approach innovation? Where do they want to be in 5 years as a company? What investments are they making in culture-building and personnel development? You want to ask questions and find best practices in areas that you are trying to mature internally. You can use the vendor to do pair-programming that matures your internal team in specific ways. Organizational culture can often be de facto behavior instead of an intentional process. Just as a new employee can bring insights because they are looking at the company with fresh eyes, a new vendor relationship can be used to generate insights about better ways of doing things.
There are seemingly endless options of software development firms to work with, and you’ll want to do your due diligence to make sure you’re working with the right one before you hand over your money and your company’s precious business information.
Informulate is an ideal partner for your development projects – we use only the latest, best quality technology and methodologies to help with your software needs, all with growth and scalability in mind. With more than a decade of experience, our team applies innovative strategies to ensure the success of your project as we work collaboratively with your organization for optimal results. We work with you to craft not just the right software solutions, but also the right processes to get the most out of your technology investments. Contact us to get started on your consultation. We love partnering for the long term to create a tailored software solution that drives competitive advantage for your business.