Here are 5 questions you should ask when hiring a development firm:
Question #1: If you were to develop my application, what is your team’s likely split between project management and product building?
Goal: Determine just how much strategy and leadership time (versus pure coding) you’re going to get.
Reason: This question has no right answer. Some projects simply need producers, while others need the guidance of technical leaders as well. The challenge is to know what strengths your existing team possesses, and more importantly, those that you lack. Development teams that are very “code heavy” or “strategy light” can certainly be worthwhile, but only in cases where a key technical ringleader already resides within your team.
Question #2: How do you assess the scope, priority and volume of features we might request for our application?
Goal: Understand whether you’re paying for technical opinions or simply code-writing skills.
Reason: Some people like to be surrounded by “yes” men (or women). While that may be great for your ego, it’s typically not a recipe for success when building software. If a dev team is really motivated to build the best product possible, they should frequently be asking “why?”. Even if your proposed set of features is spot on, a true partner would want to see the evidence behind those decisions, ensuring that the product you’re about to build has the best chance for success. Beware the development shop that blindly builds whatever you ask.
Question #3: Can you explain your process for estimating, quoting, and billing for my project?
Goal: Feel comfortable about the project’s economics.
Reason: Any development shop can quote an hourly or fixed rate. It’s a development shop’s process for arriving at those numbers that really matters. Here you’re looking for transparency, clarity, and ultimately fairness. Pure hourly engagements can be marred by “churn” (working unnecessary hours to drive up the cost), while fixed rate quotes can skyrocket due to “padding” (pumping up the price to account for future uncertainty). What’s really important is that you work with a partner you trust, and that can be best understood by digging into a dev shop’s pricing methods.
Question #4: How does (or doesn’t) Agile Development figure into your process?
Goal: Determine how iterative your relationship will be.
Reason: Ask a bar full of technologists about their views on Agile, and you might just start a brawl. But love it or leave it, the hallmark of Agile Development is its requirement for close interaction between stakeholders and developers. A dev shop’s answer to the Agile question should give you a good sense of how closely they intend to work with you throughout the project. While there is no right answer for every project, it’s critical to understand if a dev shop’s overarching philosophy is in line with yours.
Question #5: If we work together and at some point you and I don’t see eye to eye, what happens next?
Goal: Avoid surprises when things go badly.
Reason: When building critical software, the stakes are always going to be high. In that sort of environment, even the best partnerships can experience a rough patch or two. It’s critical to remember that is not the existence, but rather the resolution of these types of issues that define a relationship. When a client and a development team share a high level of mutual respect for each other, that remains a constant, even under difficult circumstances. By asking this question, proposing a few hypothetical scenarios, and sitting back and listening carefully, you can learn a great deal.
It goes without saying that picking a technical partner shouldn’t be taken lightly and won’t conclude overnight. Embrace the process, evaluate a range of options and resource types, and most importantly, make sure these five questions are asked of everyone you consider.
At Firefield, we’re addressing these questions every single day (whether prospective partners ask them or not). We would love to share our answers with you as well.