Why this is important.
Think about it - good business practice dictates that you must hire slowly, hire A-Players, hire the best you can afford. The reason for this is simple - hiring people becomes an investment in your own company DNA. You’re trusting these new hires to understand your company, your requirements, and your commitments to your clients. The right people will not only meet these expectations, but surpass them. The same is true for partnering with a supplier.
You’re trusting them in areas that could become the backbone of your business, whether the need is for administration, marketing, sales or communication. With something so important, there are some key considerations before selecting your partner.
Something else, before we unpack this – is that we advise that you start relatively small with a new development supplier. Start on a two week project and see how things go. Even if you don’t really need what is built, the money spent here will save much more than what you’d lose on a failed larger project.
Find out who you’re dealing with
One of the first things to consider when selecting a development house, is to understand who you’re dealing with.
What is the company DNA?
What makes them tick?
What do they stand for?
What processes and procedures do they use to improve their effectiveness?
We can group these considerations into –
Management and Administration, Technical, Legal and Ethical considerations.
In all of these, you want to align yourself with a supplier that has congruent principles to your business.
Management: Ask about the management structure. Who will you be dealing with daily? Who can you escalate issues to if they remain unresolved? What systems are in place to support you, the client, with communication, project status updates, task allocation, project progress? Is the project manager qualified? Are there any clients of theirs that you can have as a reference that will testify to smooth project processes? What are they working on improving?
Technical: For a development house, this is normally the first and only consideration when selecting a supplier. It is for this reason that it isn’t mentioned first, however, that is not to diminish its importance.
This gets tricky when you don’t know much technically. If possible, it would be good to involve your IT staff, or people who are technically proficient, if you lack that. To help, I’m going to suggest some good practices that should be adhered to regardless of the actual technology involved.
- What is the ability of the development team? This needs to be the actual team working on your project, not just superstars that won’t see your project except now and then. Ask to see a profile of each developer: their experience in different tech, their skill set, and some example projects they were key in developing.
- What industry standards are adhered to? What languages and frameworks are used? What programming methodologies are followed?
- What 3rd party tools are used to assist in quick and efficient code, or that reduces bugs? Are the teams using version control software like Git or Subversion? Are they using virtual development environments such as Vagrant for web development? Do they check their work against independent services (Such as WooRank)
- What is their development process? Does it include a detailed requirements gathering phase? Is branding and UX (User Experience) a consideration? Does it include User Acceptance Testing? We will write more on this in another post.
- What security considerations are put in place during the project? Will the passwords be encrypted? What is done to project against common online compromises (such as denial of service attack, SQL injection, brute force attack)? Have any external additions (plugins/purchased modules) been checked for vulnerabilities?
- What training and improvement plans do they have in place for the team? A good development house will consistently invest in their development team. It’ll include sending them on training, encouraging them to read books, watch videos and attend meet-ups and conferences.
- Will the source code of your project be made available to you?
- Will they supply documentation, such as manuals, source code documents, specifications.
Legal: Will everything be bound by a contract which defines the relationship and protects both parties? Who owns the IP (intellectual Property) of what you’re about to build? This is important to know beforehand.
Ethically: You must find a partner you can trust. Once again, alignment is key – are they honest? Will they admit fault in anything? Will they reveal weaknesses in order to build trust and integrity? Simple things like using cracked software vs. paying for legitimate licenses will tell you more about their standards. Admission of past mistakes and things they’ve learnt recently shows transparency and honesty. Speaking to one or two references also should give you a clear indication of their value in this area.
Last year we worked with a client who had selected another development house to work alongside us on another project. In our first meeting, the salesperson mentioned boldly that they had the best development team ever, and they never ever had to deal with any bugs. “This is why we have offices in San Francisco” he blurted. Unfortunately, a week after their project went live it had to be taken down because it had been hacked. The problem is that arrogance and dishonesty leads to trouble. If your supplier is over-confident, this could be problematic down the line – because a problem then becomes yours, and everyone else’s.
To sum up - Find a supplier who you can trust. Who strives to be technically exceptional. Who manages projects professionally. Also, find one that is passionate about what they do, shows genuine excitement for your project and business. Start small, and grow from there. Remember, you want to build a relationship, not just a digital product.