We all understand how hard it is to build a product. Creating something people want to buy is the act of walking a tightrope, balancing the bulk of the work while avoiding technological dead ends and keeping an eye on the new trends adopted by your fickle minded users. And let’s not forget the mad rush across that precarious tightrope as the deadlines approach. It does feel like the odds are against us. Now, if you’re working in a startup, things just got worse. Add to it a fluctuating workload, demanding more people onboard than are currently available. Apart from squeezing more hours out of your workforce or hiring more developers, there is the option of outsourcing. But we’ve all been in this industry long enough to have heard the occasional horror stories around offshore software development.
The more the software market has grown, the harder it has become to pick the right offshore partner for your software product development. See, there are many talented resources offshore, but the sheer amount of bad resources has made finding good talent difficult. The dream is an offshore partner who develops a high-quality product within a reasonable timeframe while keeping the price low, along with providing you the agility and scalability to keep up with the challenging and dynamic business environment. But how do you select the right partner? Why is the process so difficult? Why are expensive, common mistakes repeatedly made? Why are timelines frequently derailed? Often, all these questions boil down to choosing the wrong partner.
Where do I start?
The wrong partner is chosen based on misaligned estimates for vague project scopes. Building successful software takes coordination, skill and time. In other words, the right partner and each project might have a different ideal partner. Start by asking yourself a couple of basic questions while doing the initial company analysis. Have they produced industry-leading software? Do their projects speak for themselves? In the initial analysis, make sure you don’t fall for the usual tropes. When you look for quality of work, look for the depth and size of projects, not just the brand names. Keep a close eye on whether the firm pays attention to details, whether the company employs experienced people or new graduates. Look for a strong company culture of excellent work. Do they produce quality content? Are they a thought leader in the space? Start shortlisting the firms that tick the right boxes. Maintain a spreadsheet to track the companies you are evaluating. Give each company a score in each area, say from one to ten. Add up their scores, then sort.
While researching, here are a few more things to look out for:
Existing relationships can be a great start. Do you know anyone who has worked with the agency or knows someone who works there? But keep in mind, an existing relationship doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best partner for the job.
Don’t fall for the case study. Often agencies create a mock case study for high-profile clients, and when you go through the portfolio, it might seem like a bunch of high-profile clients. Make sure they worked with these clients and that it's not merely a creative exercise.
Keep an eye on the indicators of success. Past work and performance are a good place to start. But remember, a portfolio is made up of the best case scenarios turned into case studies. Don’t let this be the only factor you look at when making your decision. Instead, look to the things that fuel consistent and quality work, like the company culture and vision as leading indicators of future success. The digital landscape and software development move quickly and are ever-changing. The fancy new development trend today could turn out to be a total bust or become the next industry standard, all in the span of a few months time. Search for a company with a strong culture. It is an essential indicator since it means they can retain top talent. Strong company culture and vision are necessary to create a high functioning team. These are reliable indicators your project will end up as a future success story.
Watch out for red flags. Go through the reviews, lawsuits, if any and complaints. Look for specific details, but interpret with caution. Try to figure out what the issue was and how it was resolved. And remember, most people write a bad review, with a lot more fervor than they write a good one. And find out what’s currently happening at the company right now? Keep an eye out for key talent departure, partner disagreements, and cash flow problems. This information won't be spoon fed, so you will have to read between the lines. And don’t shy away from asking a few probing questions.
Now, this is a big one. Do they communicate well with you? Communication is key in the development process. You want a partner who can answer your questions honestly and promptly and one you can trust. How well an agency communicates upfront, will give you an idea of how things could go if the project gets tough.
Cross check the company's tech stack or capabilities. Each company has a specialty. Make sure your project requirements align with their abilities. Sometimes companies end up taking on too big of a project. This is why it is important, before signing a contract, to qualify their abilities.
Talent and cash are what keeps an agency running. See if there are any current staffing restrictions? Understand their present staffing situation as far as you can. Ensure before starting your project that the agency has enough developers on hand. This way your project won't be impacted if one or two people leave the organization since key talent departure could kill a project.