If you’ve recently made the decision to invest in bespoke software (see our last blog featuring a checklist to help you decide) then the next stage is to choose the software development company to handle your project.
You may have the best software concept in the world, but poor execution could sound the death knell for your project and mean it never get’s off the floor due to time/money/specification issues.
Qss Technosoft has worked on bespoke software for a wide variety of clients, and we feel we’re well-placed to offer some advice about how to choose which developer to go for:
Most developers have a website, and many of these feature examples of their work. They probably won’t reveal a huge amount about each project they’ve worked on, as obviously they will want to respect their clients’ privacy and confidentiality, but these glimpses may be an indicator of the sort of projects and size that they can handle. Alternatively, or in addition to this, try asking the software development company themselves. Most are happy to explain their past work, or even give some quick examples—after all, it is their business. Focus on the challenges the developer faced with the projects and the solutions they put into place. Bespoke Software development often includes similar skills and techniques even if the resulting software appears to be somewhat different to your desired outcome. The development agency should be able to explain which parts of their examples are related to the challenges you face.
The simple truth is that your bespoke software must work in a business setting. Not an academic, theoretical or abstract context. It must work in the real world, in a real business situation. This covers function as well as form, and it helps if the company in question has some form of business grounding or acumen they have developed through their time as developers. Have they handled bespoke projects in the same industry or sector as you before? Obviously public sector work is different in substance and style from, say, a start-up media company.
It might be even more useful if the development company has created bespoke applications for similar businesses to your own, or in the same geographical area, as this would give them a better grasp of some of the market issues your business may face.
Obviously writing software for similar companies is not strictly an indication of quality—you are after a bespoke solution after all—but could go some way to helping deliver a product geared for the reality of your business. Whether experienced or not the developer should be motivated to understand your business drivers in detail as well as the software challenges you face.
Of course having the best skills in the world is meaningless if the development company are not nice to work with, or have a history of suspect business practices or methods. The testimonials on their website are unlikely to list their faults, but could give you an idea of the size of their fanbase. An established company of several years’ existence should have a reasonable record of past projects. If they haven’t, you should be asking why?
They say the basis of every good relationship is good communication—and the client/developer relationship is no different. You need a very easy, clear, regular and relaxed exchange of important information—or how can you hope to build software that accurately meets your needs and expectations? The software developers should listen to what you have to say, whilst also providing expert guidance based on their experience. Ask yourself how you hope to communicate with them regularly. Will it be primarily face-to-face meetings? Phone/email? Does this fit with your own schedule?
It follows that a professional software application or programme needs to be created by professionals. Ask yourself if your proposed choice of software development company gives you this impression. Do they have a good-looking, effective website? Are they professional in any/all of their social media interactions, or dealing with the media or public? Depending on the content matter of your project, discretion and confidentiality may be particularly important, so it pays to take this into consideration.
Finally, are you able to visit their offices? Whilst not essential, it may give yet more indication as to the sort of company they are. Clean, organised, professional-looking offices may help put your mind at rest, whereas chaotic or unpredictable spaces may reveal much. If the company can’t keep their workspace clean, how can they hope to work efficiently?
Are you an early bird? Work night shifts? Weekends? Do you prefer to finish work in the early afternoon, or long into the night? These questions may help ease any collaboration between you and your proposed development company. If you are only contactable at odd times then perhaps a company happy to accommodate this is best. The other thing to consider is, from a development process and budget perspective, are you more likely to favour Agile or Waterfall development? Most companies tend to prefer one style over another—so speak to them about this and see what they recommend. It could be an important factor in your eventual decision.
This one is partly related to the software company’s business acumen and communication, but do you like them? It sounds a slightly silly question to ask, but can be a surprisingly sticking point if you get it wrong. The truth is that if you don’t get on it’s going to make everything a little more difficult. You need a rapport with your software developers. Are they as enthusiastic about your project as you are? Are they motivated to deliver a really great product, or dragging their heels? Do they ‘get’ you?
It’s another slightly left-field consideration. Whilst you’re the client (and therefore the boss), software development is as much a collaboration as a specification. Ask yourself if this is a relationship you are happy to broadcast? If they’re nice people, with a good reputation and track-record, it rubs off on you. And vice versa. It should be a mutually-enjoyable association. Have a look at their website again; is there any indication of altruistic/charitable activities, or are they particularly eco-minded or community-motivated? Do these values mirror, or complement your own? The final litmus test is; are they a Software Development Company that you’re proud to say you’re working with?