Choosing a software development partner can make or break your enterprise. No matter how good the project idea is, it may all amount to null with a hastily chosen development team. Likewise, even a great software developer can fail to create a satisfying product if their development practices don’t jibe with the client’s expectations.
In this article, we’ll discuss which factors clients must consider when selecting a software developer, which challenges they’re likely to encounter, and what practices they can employ to mitigate potential risks. In other words, we’ll help you ensure that you don’t set up your project for failure with a poor choice of a software development partner.
This is something you might expect from the lower end of the price spectrum. It’s a tale as old as time: the client tries to save money by initially spending less, but ends up paying two or three times more because of all the missed deadlines, reworks, and rewrites.
However, it’s not an issue exclusive to cheaper development companies. Remember that going for more expensive options won’t always make you immune to messy coding, insufficient testing, and lack of documentation.
Let’s say you’ve found a skilled team of engineers, made a contract, and went through a smooth and pleasant development process. But then comes the time to release the application, and you suddenly learn that you don’t own any rights to it.
In spite of paying for its development, you don’t even own the source code. And now you need to pay extra just to get the license to the app. Unfair? Perhaps. But if you had paid attention to the contract and discussed the copyright conditions beforehand, it could all have been avoided.
This is a common problem with inexperienced freelancers and development teams. No matter how good their technical skills are, a lack of transparency can drastically slow down the project’s development, or even bring about its failure.
Underreporting problems, not being straightforward about the resources necessary to complete various tasks, etc. can seriously hinder the development progress. And the misunderstandings between the client and the developer will be further exacerbated if the development team’s representative has poor English knowledge.
Different time zones
We’ve touched on this in the section about the vendor’s geography, but time zone differences can have a great impact on the pace of the development, as well as on the overall success of the project.
When the client and the development team have next to no overlap in their work hours, the response times are slowed down drastically, and the development team is unable to react to changes as quickly as it could have otherwise.
It also makes communication more difficult for both sides involved, as getting the answer to the tiniest inquiry can take up to several hours. In addition, setting up regular meetings and demo sessions becomes troublesome, which may result in needless frustration and fatigue.
Lack of initiative
You’re already aware that a good development partner isn’t just a team of mindless robots that follow the client’s instructions without question. Great development companies provide valuable guidance and advice, they think critically about the client’s choices, and suggest alternative solutions when necessary.
After all, software development clients are sometimes unfamiliar with the inner workings of the technologies involved in building an application. The client’s solution to the problem might not always be optimal due to a certain lack of specific industry knowledge.
If the software developer is unwilling to help the client figure out the best way to solve the issue at hand, the end result will likely be underwhelming. Plus, the vendor being actively involved in problem solving is a good sign that your development project is getting all the attention it deserves.
A problem that is fairly common among freelancers is the lack of proper management. Since there is nobody to oversee their work, if you don’t count the client, the developer might frequently miss deadlines, make irregular progress reports, send in tasks with little to no quality assurance, and so on.
Of course, poor management can also affect outsourced development teams. If the project manager is inexperienced, similar problems will plague the whole development process. Although they are easier to mitigate in a team where everyone’s efficiency is more or less dependent on each other.
Very high pricing
Unfortunately, high costs don’t always equal high-quality services. If you look at the prices of most European development companies, you’ll probably think all of them have outstanding expertise – and in a good number of cases, you’ll be right. However, a lot will still turn out to be very disappointing.
The fact of the matter is, taxing is one of the biggest deciding factors when it comes to service prices. So companies that are located in countries with higher than average living costs will have some of the highest hourly rates on the market, regardless of the team’s actual skill.
In essence, sometimes even a seemingly prestigious vendor might give you a nasty surprise in the form of low development speed, lacking communication, and poor performance.
Leakage of resources
The longer the process of software development goes, the bigger the risk of changes being made to the vendor’s development team. When an employee is switched to another project or leaves the company altogether, they need to be replaced as quickly as possible.
In cases like this, outsourced development teams usually cover the onboarding and training costs themselves. But that’s not a universal rule, meaning that you, the client, may need to pay extra – and if the company’s dealing with a serious leakage of resources, the expenses will only keep accumulating.
Even if you don’t have to pay for the time and efforts required to find a good replacement, the changing of staff still slows development down. Moreover, if most of the original team is gone, the new staff is more likely to have trouble deciphering the initial code, which may lower their overall efficiency.
Relevant domain expertise
A Michelin-star chef may be skilled with knives, but you’d be hard pressed to trust one with surgery. Likewise, developers may have similar toolkits on the surface, but their expertise will be largely confined to a particular domain. Therefore, it’s important that the development team you collaborate with has substantial credibility in the industry the project belongs to.
Experience in the domain combined with relevant case studies are a good sign that the company knows the industry requirements and is aware of the development pitfalls common to that field. It’s especially advantageous if the company has applicable industry certifications.
It’s crucial that the vendor has sufficient experience as a product owner and has a keen understanding of the trade. Knowing how to code isn’t enough – the team must be able to properly organize the development process and management of the product.
Product knowledge is apparent in which features the company chooses to prioritize, how they distribute resources, and how they plan to interact with the app’s user base. A good indicator of an expert development company is their ability to offer cross-functional teams with Tech Advisors and Business Analysts.
Always check the vendor’s portfolio for relevant cases: it’s one of the biggest indicators of their expertise. If possible, test the applications they have listed and see if they meet your standards. Don’t forget that a solution can be made by several different vendors, so it’s better to clarify which part of the development the company in question was responsible for.
The apps’ user reviews and ratings in AppStore and GooglePlay can also serve as proof of the development team’s capabilities. That said, they should be considered critically. Prioritize the reviews that talk about the application’s UI, visual design, performance, and bugs, and try to filter out those that just talk about its features.
No matter how great the vendor’s website makes its developers out to be, the best way to check the quality of their services is to look at client reviews. You’ll be able to see what their clients liked and disliked, how the development team went about problem solving, and what recommendations to follow when working with them.
When looking up reviews, pay attention to how long each client’s collaboration with the software developer lasted. It’s important to understand how good of a partner the vendor is in the long run and how well they can address the issues that arise over the course of different development stages.
Company size is another factor you should take into account when looking for a software development partner. This will command two important aspects: the vendor’s way of handling processes and the resources they have available.
What you want to achieve is the status of a VIC – a very important client. If the development company is too big, you run the risk of your project not getting as much attention as it deserves. On the other hand, if the development team is way too small, it might simply lack the resources and the experience necessary to bring your idea to fruition.
Finding a good balance of size and resources can be fairly tough, which is why it’s often suggested that clients choose development companies similar to their own in size. Though it’s good to remember that even larger companies may not have all the resources required to complete your product due to being occupied with multiple other projects.
Naturally, most vendors will try to keep their costs as appealing as possible to attract more customers. However, a good competitive price can sometimes be deceptive.
Hidden fees and additional costs are commonplace, so make sure to check the software contract for any mention of them. These extra payments may come in the form of: initial setup and onboarding, in-person training, document management services, and annual maintenance fees.
The contract might also contain conditions under which the vendor will be able to increase the cost of their services during your collaboration. If the solution won’t be working out the way you want it to after, say, a year, there should be an option to terminate the contract before the software’s completion.
Geographical and cultural proximity
Geographical location plays a bigger role in building a successful collaboration than you might expect.
Perhaps, the most obvious issue that might arise as a result of the vendor being situated far away from you is the difference in time zones. While not a death sentence for the project, having little to no overlap in working hours will slow down problem solving and communication between you and the development team.
Another factor that’s greatly affected by geolocation is the pricing. Taxes and costs of living vary massively across the world, and rates differ accordingly. So while the vendor might be situated in a less than comfortable timezone, the relatively low cost of their services might outweigh that disadvantage – and vice versa.
But the cultural aspect shouldn’t be understated either. It’s not uncommon for different regions to prioritize different things in their work processes and to have different rules of work etiquette. For example, working with a Southern European company might be very different from working with a Northern development team purely from the time management standpoint.
Language is another point to be taken into consideration. Your development partner shouldn’t be a mere code-writing machine, they’re supposed to be your advisor. As such, they require great language and communication skills. After all, how can you expect to exchange valuable information and discuss complex project-related matters with someone that barely understands you?
When you’re developing a solution targeted at a certain region, it’s best to collaborate with a vendor that has experience in working with that area’s customer base. Local expertise is irreplaceable when it comes to understanding the demand for a product, as well as to marketing and distributing it in the most efficient way.
This is both related and unrelated to the development company’s location. Granted, a software developer headquartered in a certain country is more likely to have experience working in that region. But that’s not always the case. Don’t just assume – check which regions the vendor has actually worked with before making your decision.
We can’t help but mention the importance of the human factor. Collaboration works best when there’s a certain psychological match between you and the development team’s representative – in other words, chemistry.
If a person on the other side is difficult to communicate with, if it’s tough to find a common ground on a variety of issues, it will be much harder to avoid preventable pitfalls and misunderstandings.
Strong legal grounds
A well-developed contract is your safety net: it’s the best protection against potential disputes, such as intellectual property rights, work phases, payments, and so on. A clear and detailed contract also increases the likelihood of you getting positive results from your collaboration, as well as the prospect of your productive relationship with the vendor being long lasting.
A vague contract that doesn’t specify terms of payment, how much work needs to be done within a certain time period, copyright, intellectual property rights, or finished product specifications is a red flag. In contrast, a good contract takes all of these factors into account, while still leaving some wiggle room for possible future adjustments.
Mentioning the importance of transparent communication has long become a cliche in software development. But it’s for good reason. Few things are as valuable as continuous and honest dialogue when striving for success in any kind of collaboration.
To ensure that the work on your project goes at a good pace, straightforward communication must be built on all levels: the management level, the team level, and the client level. This will maximize both sides’ collaborative potential and may even encourage future partnership.
Building good processes is an irreplaceable stepping stone to building a good product. Client and vendor processes need to be synchronized, and both sides have to make certain adjustments to ensure that they work well as a unit.
As a client, the best course of action is to look for a vendor that values retrospective meetings and tries to constantly improve their development practices. Integrate the external development team as early as possible: clearly state your requirements for them and have them clearly state their requirements for you.
Emails aside, the team will most likely share files with you using Google Drive, Dropbox, or Notion. In addition, expect to use a lot of online communication services, such as Google Meet, Skype, Zoom, and others – if you have an involved development team, calls and updates will be frequent.
That’s because as far as the development itself goes, the vast majority of developers use the Agile methodology, employing sprints and daily standups. As a rule, new iterations of the product are finished on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, which encourages team motivation and creates a sense of urgency, in a good way.
Let’s talk some more about synchronization. It’s good to carry out in-depth synchronization calls each month. There, you’ll discuss the general state of the project, its long-term goals, and the problems it’s facing.
On the other hand, weekly technical synchronization calls are integral to creating effective short-term plans and making quick adjustments to the roadmap. It also speeds up development, as the team has to show off actual results on a regular basis.
Don’t think you can just sit back and relax when the developers do all the work, though. As a client, you should prepare new information, specifications, and mockups for each upcoming sprint.
Your own involvement as a Product Owner plays a huge part in how the end product turns out. Firstly, it’s a matter of direction. You taking active part in calls, suggesting new ideas, supplying documentation and mockups, and so on ensures that the project moves towards becoming something you actually want to see.
If you leave the vendor to figure out all the designs and specifications on their own, by the end of the development you’ll likely discover that the end product is vastly different from what you had in mind – and you’ll only have yourself to blame.
Your active participation has a psychological effect on the development team, too. Enthusiasm is contagious, and if your involvement is apparent, the engineers will feel more confident and be a lot more motivated to deliver great results.
If the project allows for it, discuss as much as you can in advance. The pre-development stage is perfect for refining your project idea and setting the most crucial milestones it needs to achieve.
Decide how you’ll measure the product’s success. Will it be the number of converted customers? Maybe the number of units sold? Or will it be a rise in traffic to your website? Whatever your project’s end goal is, it has to be measurable and concrete.
Set up KPIs based on that. With them in mind, your vendor will have an easier time helping you figure out the best way to achieve them. And of course, you’ll have an easier time deciding if the end product has been successful or not.
Compromise on the geography
We’ve talked a lot about the different issues associated with foreign vendors. To mitigate these inconveniences, you’ll have to compromise. Outsourced development companies can be split into several types based on their geographical location, and the specifics of working with them will vary accordingly.
Firstly, onshore development companies are located in your home country. They are the easiest to work with from the linguistic and cultural standpoint, but the costs frequently exceed those of their offshore competitors.
Offshore companies are far more affordable than their local counterparts, while sometimes offering the same – or even greater – level of service quality (this strongly varies from country to country, so don’t forget to do your research). The main disadvantage here is the possible timezone disparity and linguistic barrier. Though, the latter is rarely an issue with experienced vendors.
If working during different hours is a serious issue for you, consider nearshore and hybrid software development companies. Nearshore development teams are still located abroad, but inhabit a similar time zone, allowing for efficient communication at an affordable price.
Hybrid companies perform some of their management functions on-site, while the development team is located in a different country. This means that you can directly work with the team’s management staff without having to worry about language and time differences.
Consider your business priorities very carefully, perhaps even contact the companies to decide which kind of workflow will suit you best. Some might surprise you: for example, numerous offshore companies have 24/7 support services specifically to help clients from different time zones, so don’t brush certain options off too quickly.
Whether you like it or not, you’ll have to make many compromises over the course of software development. Be it pricing, time, or the execution of new features, not everything will perfectly align with your initial plan. But sometimes that’s a good thing – after all, first drafts are never perfect.
Say, you wanted to slightly adjust an old feature on your website. But when the development team got down to business, they discovered that the code for the feature was a mess beyond saving. So they offered you to rewrite the feature from scratch in exchange for needing a little more time to complete the task. As a result, the feature’s performance increased drastically, and it became far more update-friendly.
On a more global scale, keeping things flexible will help both you and your vendor operate with minimal losses in critical situations. What’s more, taking each other’s opinions into consideration will help you foster a more respectful and effective collaboration.
Choosing the perfect development partner for a project is no easy task. Domain experience, company reputation, size, location, pricing, and many other factors need to be taken into account just to narrow down the list of possible candidates – and that’s not to mention all the risks involved in making the wrong call.
Luckily, there are ways to ensure that your collaboration brings good results. Research, figuring out your priorities, transparent communication, proper synchronization of processes, and maximum involvement from your side will help build a pleasant and productive relationship between you and the software development team.
Finally, if you want to discover reliable software vendors with vast experience in numerous industries, consider contacting Bamboo Group. Having over 20 years of expertise in nurturing tech startups, we’ll help you find the best team for the job.