Choosing The Right Custom Software Development Company
We’ve been in the software business for the better part of three decades. Along the way, we learned that not every project is successful (more than two of three fail, actually). We’ve seen a few of the development behaviors that lead to project failure. While mentioning ‘best practices’ is good jargon on a website (no doubt we wrote it somewhere), when selecting a software vendor, you’ll want to dig deep in some areas. We’ve assembled ten key things to consider for choosing the right custom software development company.
We list money first on our because it’s often a deal-breaker for both the client and vendor. Save everyone time by sizing up budget. What can you afford? You’ll want to set expectations internally before you send out that RFP. Is it small, medium, large, or XL? How long do you expect the work to take, weighing in that there will most likely be scope creep and unforeseen issues? We recommend shopping based on value – get the best expertise at the best price. If you lowball the budget, then grind the vendor, you’ll most likely have a painful relationship. And if you hire the platinum vendor, your corporate wallet will feel it. What are you most comfortable with for the duration of the project?
Reputation matters here. A lot. Look for testimonials. Check online reviews. Ask for references. Trust, but verify. Are the companies delivering the feedback comparable to you? We like the term twinsumer – finding reviews and reviewers that sound like you. Note, reference conversations are a special request that should be reserved for serious diligence, not when kicking the tires.
If you already have a technology stack, you can ask about relevant certifications. Competent custom software development companies are often known among their technology peers, which can earn a variety of ‘badges’. For example, we specialize in cloud applications based on AWS, so we showcase our certifications for that. If you haven’t already chosen your platform, ask what the vendors specialize in and seek their expertise there. For the record, credentials aren’t a guarantee of ability, but they can be helpful in vetting someone for expertise.
If you hired a contractor to remodel your home, would you want to be his first customer? Probably not. On-the-job training isn’t the best strategy for high-stakes projects. Look for deep experience with technology platforms. If you’re building a SaaS product, look for a software developer who has SaaS on their resume (we do!). If your application will be in the cloud (it should!), look for a vendor who builds modern applications. And if you’re in a particular industry, look for a custom application development company that has industry experience. For example, if you’re building medical or financial software, you’ll want someone who knows a great deal about HIPAA or PCI standards.
Unfortunately “our way or the highway” is not an uncommon approach with custom software developers. You should get a feel for what it’s like working with someone during the sales process. Needs change during a project. Will you be sorry when they do? If they’re prickly pears during the sale, they’ll most likely be that way during the relationship. Note, we’re watching customers the same way. If it’s a struggle to work with each other, it’ll probably lead down a mutually-unhappy road.
What’s the energy like? Are they fun? serious? highly motivated? Do they talk about how great their apps are? Do they talk about their business with pride? If they’re passionate about software, you’ll know it.
If you’re outsourcing, you’ll find many options. Onshore, offshore, nearshore… Certainly geography can work for or against you. Having onshore developers can be convenient but more expensive. Having offshore developers can be more affordable but in a ‘challenging’ time zone. Nearshoring can resolve both problems with the right partner. The key is to gauge the availability and responsiveness of the provider. Perhaps you can even resolve it within an SLA.
We learned many years ago that size matters…when it comes to matching with outsource providers for support. Enterprise projects typically match better with large consulting firms than small development shops. And small projects match better with small development shops. Of course, a large company could benefit from a small vendor with specialized skills on the right assignment, but building an ERP system isn’t the job of a small team. The best support matchups are like-to-like.
You can glean a great deal about communication style of a vendor during the sales process. Do they respond in a timely manner? Do they understand you and your goals? Do you understand their responses and suggestions? Do you exchange feedback? On occasion, however, the ‘sale’ can be a bait & switch. The team winning the business isn’t the team doing the work. So be sure to interview who you’d be working with on the custom software project.
Hopefully your potential vendors are financially viable. Do a little research around the company’s financial health. Will they be able to sustain a long-term engagement? You don’t want to build a bridge halfway over the river, only to find they’re bankrupt. You want someone with long-term availability, perhaps even after launch, to iterate or answer questions.
Choosing The Right Custom Application Development Company
A custom software project is usually a long-term engagement. Many of the factors listed here align expectations for the client and vendor for such a relationship. Choosing the right custom software development company hinges on doing your research, asking probing questions, listening to responses, and ultimately evaluating your feelings about the alignment. A prickly pear in sales will most likely maintain a rough relationship after you sign. Empathic custom application developers should move to the short list, since they’re the ones listening and responding with care. You also may hear some excuses when you ask – a red flag. Conversely, you may get some brutal honesty – a great sign. “We worked on a project like yours that went sideways” could be tremendously valuable when the vendor explains why. We hope our list helps you in your quest. Feel free to leave comments, tell stories, or reach out for advice…