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Step 1:  Make a List

To support your decision-making process, you first need to make a list to guide the development of your solution. This list is going to consist of many things that will outline your ideas, needs, and expectations for the project and the development team and should help you make the right decision for your business. You need to carefully consider your business growth plans, how you provide services to your clients, and your overall software solution. Your ability to help your potential partner understand the scope of your project will be valuable in the evaluation process.

Decide on your internal team that will help with making and supporting the decision. Put together a ‘must-haves’ checklist for the capabilities required from a custom software solution company. Research different approaches and methodologies to discuss with your potential business partner. For instance, will you use Agile and should your partner need to practice it as well? Think about the services your business will need. Will you require an entire development team, including help with product support? Consider the types of roles required to build your solution and note those you can fulfill with internal staff and which you will need to fill with experts provided by your new partner.


Step 2:  Evaluate Experience

Now that you have a better understanding of the services you need from a software development partner, you can begin researching potential candidates with the right experience to help build your solution.

Evaluate case studies and other materials detailing projects that your prospective partners have done. Bonus points for direct industry experience – if they have business leaders or development teams with previous understanding of your business, your services, and your clients, they will be better suited to know how to help solve the problems you face. Next, talk to people at your prospective companies; however, don’t just limit it to the sales team. Talk to the development team, leaders, and others at each company to give you the best and most accurate picture of how they work to help, support, and delight their partners.

Ultimately, you want to choose a partner with the right experience to help you achieve your goals. Avoid choosing a company just because they work with trendy technologies or because they list tons of services on their website. The length of time they have been in business can be important, but the length of time they have worked with their own clients can be more telling of the level of expertise they provide.


Step 3:  Investigate Price

Budget is a huge consideration for businesses starting a software development project. You want to find a partner that can help you make the most of your budget. Experienced development companies should be able to clearly articulate how their services are priced.

You might not get all the features that you want up front, but the best partner should be able to help you craft a plan for your solution build. They can help decide which features you need today and which should include feedback from your users and clients for inclusion in a future release. Your selected development company should support the full vision for your product and be able to focus on partnering with you and your team for the long term. They should have the confidence in their development skills to architect, build, and evolve the solution with your team to scale for your growth.

You may be tempted to select the lowest cost option but be cautious. The software company with the lowest bid might not necessarily be the most cost effective. You risk choosing a partner that will go fast but make mistakes, or one that will complete chunks of the work and then need to redo them to match your standards. Don’t risk quality for a good price. Ask about change orders—many companies will underbid a project and then add on new charges throughout the project resulting in a dramatic increase to the overall cost of development. While it is true that aspects of your project will change during the development process, experienced software development companies should help you understand how they will handle changes while protecting both your budget and your timeline.


Step 4:  Consider Location

The physical location of your software development partner can be a key component in project success that isn’t always obvious at the start. Local, onshore, and offshore options provide different benefits and challenges that should play into your final decision.

Where will you want your external development partner to be? If it’s important that they can integrate with your team and work onsite frequently, you might want to only look at local software companies.  If you are open to working remotely with an onshore company, hold early conversations using the potential businesses’ conferencing system.  You will want to ensure your development team can provide help by video as much is lost in exclusively email team communications. Don’t forget to account for travel in your budget if you’ll expect it from your software development team. If you’re thinking of offshoring the work, be sure you consider how you will handle the difference in time zones and communication styles. Many companies offer low-cost solutions that include working with offshore teams to handle services like help desk, product support, and simple development.


Step 5:  Start Searching

Once you’ve outlined your expectations, it’s time to get started. Take your lists and use them to shape your search for the right partner to support your technological vision.

The internet is obviously a great business resource. The more you know about the type of partner you’re looking for, the better your search terms will be. Precise terms like ‘agile software development company in Chicago’ will yield a manageable amount of results. From there, decide what criteria will help you narrow down prospective partners.

Pull some companies that intrigue you. Compile the details you need to learn about each company based on what you’ve discovered is important to you. Search websites and fill out contact forms for companies that seem to fit the bill. Also, be sure to reach out to your network of clients and business associates and let them know what you’re looking for. Your connections just might have someone in mind that they can vouch for, giving you additional insight into that potential software partner.

Don’t forget to keep track of your search as you go. Create a document that records potential companies, their attributes, who you’ve talked to, what you’ve learned, and any decisions you’ve made.


Step 6:  Ask Tough Questions

Now that you’re in the process of vetting some specific software companies that you think could meet your needs, it’s time to ask some direct questions. Don’t shy away from asking the tough ones.

Now is the best time to ask questions about each development company you’re considering. We know that 75% of software projects fail, and you need to be sure that yours won’t be one of them. Ask questions that can inform you how your partner will handle various challenges throughout the software development life cycle.

Learn what challenges they have faced with previous clients and what they did to overcome them. If there’s something you’re particularly worried about, ask about their experience dealing with your prospective challenges to help their other clients with similar solutions in the past. Ask about both their best clients as well as the ones that didn’t stick around. Be sure they can clearly outline what you can expect from working with their team, how you will measure progress, and how they help define success.

Be wary of any potential development partner that struggles to answer these questions or doesn’t provide stories of failure or follow them up with concrete ways they’ve adapted to ensure future success for their clients.


Step 7:  Connect with References

You’ve used tough questions to weed out the software development companies that aren’t a good fit. Now that you’ve narrowed it down, you can connect with clients to confirm that your preferred partners have what it takes to build the software solution your business needs.

Ask for references from clients and talk to them directly if possible. Select clients that you find are most like your business, whether it’s based on industry, size, services, or the kind of projects they do. Get names of both current clients and past clients and compare them with your contacts. It’s advantageous if you can talk candidly to a business connection that has worked with your prospective partners.


Step 8:  Ensure Alignment

Next, you need to be sure that you and your potential software development partner have that spark. Can you work well together? Will you be able to form a collaborative team to build a strong solution that provides the business value you need?

If you can say that you genuinely like the people you’ve interacted with at a company, that’s a good sign. Psychologically, we tend to like those that are similar to us. Do you have the same values and philosophy? If your new partner prioritizes and rewards something you don’t find valuable, your business could have a problem. Do you both agree on the services, features, and support your product needs? Do you fully understand their expectations of you as a client? You want to ensure you do your share of the work to help your software solution get built and launched successfully. Be sure that you’re aligned in your vision for all aspects of the project, including the process and the end result.

Think about any concerns you still have. Would it help to see how their developers interact with your team? Maybe you’d feel more comfortable if you could interview your potential project manager. It doesn’t hurt to ask what your new partner can do to support you – and that flexibility is a good indicator that your new partner will be able to think outside of the box to make sure you’re provided with what you need to be successful.


Step 9:  Watch for Red Flags

Before you make your final choice, take a look back. Consider the interactions you have had from first contact through client referrals. Beware of any red flags from your top picks.

Be on the lookout for any company that doesn’t seem transparent. Ask any and all questions you have up front and be wary of those that aren’t able to fully answer them. If clarity isn’t there at the start, it will only get worse. Did they answer all of your questions and help you feel supported and heard throughout the process? Are you encouraged to sign documents before you’ve gathered the clarity you need? Run! Do they hold you accountable throughout the process? If they haven’t, odds are that they won’t do it for the duration of your project, which will likely result in you slowing down progress and spending more money.

Have you discussed checkpoints for your solution build? You don’t want a partner that will take your requirements and have the development team run away with them. That usually results in an end product that is nothing like you expected. Make sure you know when to expect team meetings, requirement reviews, and showcases. If it’s infrequent, the business has fewer chances to catch mistakes and help correct them before your project runs off the rails.