Guidelines for Picking the Right Software Project Partner

When every second counts, make sure your vendor can really help you deliver.

Michael Blakesley.jpg

By Michael Blakesley
Vice President of User Experience

When is the last time you had to get software to market and you had all the time you needed to build every feature, finished with a budget surplus, and never once had a bump in the road?

For most product teams, that answer is probably “never.”

Usually every project to ship software is faced with resource constraints and numerous challenges to overcome. To make things even more interesting, sometimes you need to rely on an outside source for design and development.

The reasons to work with an outside source like an agency or “dev shop” can vary greatly. Still, you’ve got a deadline and you don’t have a clear plan or a partner to get it done. When time is of the essence, how do you quickly get comfortable with selecting a partner so you can just get going?

We’ve been on the partner side of this scenario many times. We’ve seen the three most typical roadblocks to be:

  1. a significant delta between the original budget and the proposed budget you’ve gotten from your potential vendors,
  2. difficulty reconciling differences between how your team would do it versus how your vendor sees it, and
  3. a desire to be more organized before initiating the project and handing off to the vendor.

Now, more than ever, program leaders need to make bigger bets and don’t have the time to make the wrong choice, which results in a big “miss” in the marketplace.

Here are guidelines to help quickly assess your partner options and make a confident choice so you can take action to get started.

Transparency in estimating the budget delta

Vendors should be able to quickly provide visibility into how they created their plans. If they can’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are trying to hide something. It may just mean that they don’t have a very clear picture of how they plan to execute. This introduces a lot of risk to the project that may not become a problem until it is late into the work.

It may be that the estimate for the work is a lot higher than you were anticipating. Does this mean that your vendor is too expensive or over-engineering the project? Probably not.

More than likely, a meeting is needed between you and them to make sure you are aligned on scope, how you’re mitigating risk, and considerations for the future roadmap of the product.

Ability to deliver product, not just complete a project

Working with an experienced product development vendor brings with it many pros and cons. For instance, the proposed approach you received may include plans for the future of the product that add to cost, and they may be more necessary than you think.

But how do you know if these plans fit within the current release or even just an MVP? It is possible that you can negotiate your way through tradeoffs for what you can afford now versus the technical debt that may need to be paid later.

Make sure you’re working with companies that can see the big picture, rather than just seeing your backlog as a ticket system. These types of vendors will be able to pivot with you if priorities change. They will understand your business and consult with you to help make sure you’re building the right things, not just building them right.

The best partners are skilled at making order out of chaos

You’ve reviewed proposals from several vendors, you feel ready to make a decision, and yet you feel paralyzed to get started because of so many competing priorities that you feel you wouldn’t even have time to kick off the project. That’s OK. A good product development partner is going to empathize with your situation and be there to help you.

How do companies demonstrate this if you’ve never worked with them before? Invite them into your problem. See if they offer recommendations to help deal with all the chaos and if they do it with sympathy for your situation. Do this right away and try to avoid delaying the start date for the project even further. It’s not likely that your release date is going to change, so don’t put added pressure on the project by cutting into the available calendar days.

In conclusion, when selecting a product development partner, it’s easy to get caught up in the pressure of getting the project off on the right foot. Just remember that you aren’t alone in all this. In fact, a good partner is one that is there primarily to help. Be ready to ask your potential vendors some hard questions and put it all on the table. You’ll quickly discover who’s going to have your back.

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