In CEO peer groups, leaders from other industries have asked my advice on what to look for in a software development partner. Here’s what to consider as you narrow big choices based on my experience. Each topic below is followed by pointed questions you should ask – recommended by my colleague, Lauren Wells, solutions architect at The Nerdery.
They’re asking the right questions: Is this potential tech vendor a problem solver, or are they just telling you what you want to hear? Look for a partner who asks not what you want, but addresses the business problem you’re trying to solve. Did they put together a proposal without asking lots of questions?
Ask: Given our current situation, what would you propose to solve our challenge?
Experience in a wide array of disciplines/programs: Is the vendor prescribing a solution based on what they usually do, or are they building something based on what will work best for you? Watch out for vendors who say they can do everything for everybody. Ask for proof.
Ask: What technologies and platforms are you proficient in? Do you have partner certifications relevant to technologies you’re recommending? Do you have a team to focus on strategic road mapping?
Industry experience: A vendor with industry experience has likely solved your kind of problem before. An understanding of your industry’s challenges decreases the mental cost of ramp-up and information gathering at project kickoff.
Ask: Have you ever solved this problem within my industry?
Can flex with your business needs: Make sure the vendor you choose can work how you need to work, whether that means working as an agile project team ramping up to help you meet an impossible deadline, or shifting focus to a newly identified project deliverable.
Ask: How will you make sure my project stays on track? How do you approach changes or shifts in priorities that occur once a project gets started?
Practices integrated quality assurance (QA): Is quality assurance an afterthought in this potential vendor’s process? Find a partner who integrates QA with development from the start to set your project up for success and catch potential problems before incurring significant development-rework costs.
Ask: How do you ensure software is free of bugs and defects? In the project process, when does quality assurance begin?
They’re not the cheapest solution: You can’t afford to underinvest. Creating software that solves business problems takes time and thought, and that costs money. Find a partner to develop a product that you won’t have to quickly replace.
Ask: What is your pricing structure?
You can trust them (farther than you can throw them): Ask to talk to past clients; ask any questions that make you feel comfortable about putting your project in the potential vendor’s hands. You’ll want to see a team that truly cares and is eager to get to work on the business problem at hand.
Ask: Do you have references in our industry that we can talk to?
Have a good sense of collaboration and teamwork: They should be able to collaborate with third parties, whether you have another vendor handling a part of the project (like the designs), or an internal team.
Ask: What methods do you have in place to foster collaboration and teamwork across companies? Who do I call when I have a question?
You dig the culture: Having a similar outlook on work values and how to get the job done will make it even easier to communicate with your team and make progress on your project. Work can be fun. You don’t have to be the same, but you want to choose a partner that gets you.
Ask: How would you describe your culture and working style? What is your typical client relationship like?
Happily ever after
As you evaluate any soon-to be technology partners, make sure they’re legit by checking all these areas. When you partner with a tech company on a big project, it can be a long relationship. You should feel comfortable with your team from project ideation to deployment. By asking the right questions as Lauren suggests and making sure your future partner has the necessary experience, you can find a good fit for any project.