9 Questions to Ask When Outsourcing Software Development
Custom software takes an investment of both time and financial resources. If you have decided to outsource your project to a software development firm, rather than an in-house development team, it is important to make sure they are a good fit for your business and can be a long-term partner for you.
Below are nine questions to help you evaluate the software development firms you are considering.
If you find other criteria useful in your search, please share them in the comment section below.
Nine Questions to Help You Select Your Software Development Firm
Do they want to get to know your business?
Your business is unique. No one has the same value proposition, business processes, culture and customer interaction as you. You want your software to compliment your business while helping it to grow and scale.
Software can only do what you program it to do. It doesn’t make assumptions or read minds. So when dealing with a custom software firm, you really need someone who takes the time to understand your business so they can translate your needs into a software design and specification that developers can implement.
When evaluating a software firm, pay attention to the questions they ask. Are they taking their time to learn more about you and what you want, or are they rushing to handing you a proposal and a quote?
Does your software firm offer new ideas?
Your software firm should do more than take your specific ideas and translate them into software. They should ask you thought provoking questions and offer new ideas so that together you create an even better software product.
- “Have you thought about this…”
- “What if we tried it this way…”
- “What would happen if your users did it this way instead?”
Does your software firm advise you on what works well and what doesn’t?
One of the benefits of working with a software development firm is their experience over the years with multiple projects. They will have tried things and came away with a few battle scars, which is to your benefit.
Your software firm should be confident enough to advise you what works well and what doesn’t. They should have an opinion because you are hiring them as an expert, not an order taker.
Ideally in your conversations with potential software development firms, you will hear them say, “Here is what we find works great in this situation…” or “We suggest doing it this way because of x, y, and z.” or “We don’t think that is the best approach for you and here is why. Can you help us understand what it is that you like about this approach?”
Look for a firm that isn’t afraid to disagree and is willing to back up their opinion with reasons that are in line with your goals.
Does your software firm educate you?
Technology constantly changes and it is a challenge to stay relevant. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the minutiae, but have your technology partner educate you. Ask questions such as
“Why does this matter to me?”
“How does my company or my software benefit if we do it this way?”
“Why is this technology, framework, component, library, approach, etc. the best choice?”
A true software development partner will take the time to explain what they are doing in a way that you can understand.
Does your software firm match technology to your needs?
Some software development firms specialize in how they deliver a software project. They may use a particular coding language, framework or software solution for all of their clients, like Microsoft Sharepoint or WordPress.
If the tools they use are a good match for your needs, then great. But not all technologies are a good fit for all projects.
When you start out, consider talking to a few firms who use a wide variety of technologies in their solutions. They will be able to talk openly about your opinions, and which they feel is the best approach for your project. If it makes sense to specialize on a toolkit or platform, then you can feel good about doing your due diligence before going down that path.
Does your software firm have a reliable process?
Building software is the execution of several hundred tiny steps. You want to partner with a software development firm that has a well-defined, repeatable process and a success track record.
You can think of a software process like a detailed checklist of common tasks that all projects need, along with known steps of who does what, how they do it, and how they hand their work off to the next person.
In effect, a software development process is like a factory for building software that can be adjusted to fit your particular project needs.
Feel empowered to ask your potential software company about their process and why it works for them.
Does your software firm communicate well?
Building software is all about communication. At first, the communication is about sharing your ideas with your team, clarifying and refining those ideas, and eventually creating a final software design.
Then the communication is about scoping and budgets for the first release, building your software, asking and answering detailed questions about priorities and how things work until the project is complete.
You want to feel good about the quality and quantity of communication with your chosen software firm. Software is mostly intangible so what gets built is a direct reflection of what gets communicated, and how it gets communicated.
Is your software firm local, with an office you can visit?
While it may be common to outsource software development off-shore or to a team you have never seen, there is something to be said for developing face-to-face relationships with your team.
Building software can be a bumpy process at times, so taking the time to invest in a relationship helps both sides smooth out bumps down the road, knowing there is a real person on the other side.
Does your software firm offer long-term support?
Once a software project is delivered, it will need additional support. It may be infrequent or frequent, depending on your need for it to modified based on user feedback or changes to your business.
You want a software partner who will support you for the long-haul. If your software partner doesn’t offer support, you will need full access to the source code and look for a software company that will support you and your business going forward.
It is wise not to assume that once a project is done, it is forever done.
Building a custom software solution is an exciting process. The possibilities are endless and you get to be in the driver’s seat. But you need a custom software firm who can deliver on your ideas.
When you partner with a custom software development firm, you want to get it right the first time. We hope these questions will help you evaluate your potential partners.
The 5 Pillars Of A Successful Software Project
We want to help every software project begin on solid ground. In The 5 Pillars Of A Successful Software Project we share the five essential ingredients of every software project.