It can seem counterintuitive to scout for an outside team of consultants after putting in all that effort to hire a skilled team of software engineers. However, in today’s market, it isn’t enough to be the first-to-market, you also have to be the best-to-market. To help you get there, it’s become increasingly common for companies of all sizes to seek out expertise from dedicated consultants.
What is a software consultant?
Software consultants are generally senior developers with more than a decade of professional experience, who have developed additional skills as a business and technical leader along the way. Organizations of all size are increasingly hiring software consultants on a contract basis to help create custom software for an organization to meet business goals or to solve specific technical problems. They provide expert technical advice, strategize with clients to create software that solves business problems and create an architecture for developers to follow. Basically, a software consultant aligns your technical direction with business needs.
How do I vet a software consultant?
Setup a call with your top candidates to discuss your technology and software needs. Be transparent about your current needs, budget and expectations. Then see if they ask the right questions? Look at their relationship with their previous clients. Listen closely to discern their level of professionalism, confidence and domain expertise. Move on if you notice red flags. Keep in mind that a consultant is also trying to figure out whether you are a good client or not. Don’t focus merely on technical expertise and experience of a consultant. Look beyond that to additional skills like leadership and communication.
What will the rates and billing be like?
Try to figure out your consultant’s preference when it comes to handling billing and their rates. And make sure you don’t sugarcoat your budget. Most entrepreneurs are hesitant when it comes to stating their budget up-front, but this is bound to work against you in the long run. The firm budget really needs to be understood by the consultant. Good consultants won’t negotiate on rate, but will on the scope of work. Full-time hourly rates are usually lower than consulting rates, so try not to compare. If you are confident in the skills of the consultant and the project estimate comes fits in the budget, go for it.
Here are a few reasons to consider getting a software consultant on board:
If you don’t have technical leadership in your company you risk incurring technical and debt if you hire developers without a VP, CTO or Director of Engineering. Managing a project requires an understanding of how the technology will impact the business which comes with years of experience. Hiring a consultant will prove to be a more affordable and smarter decision for your project unless you're willing to hire technical leadership.
If you’re just starting out with plans to grow out a technical team and you don’t need a long-term commitment yet, its the perfect time to have a consultant study your business, convert your ideas into an actionable plan, and oversee the whole journey starting with the strategy to development then delivery. Because they’ve worked in multiple industries, they can develop solutions that an internal team would never have thought of. Your collaboration will allow everyone to focus on doing what they do best.
Your development team may understand the workings of a certain technology after attending a few workshops, but have they built anything based on that technology? If you don’t want to make costly mistakes while planning to launch a new digital product, you need to scout for people who are used to moving around in the experimental phases of tech, and that can mean looking outside your own team. When you hire experts, you’re engaging a team that is passionate about technology. Look around, be it the Oculus Rift or the iWatch, a dedicated team of engineering consultants has immersed itself in product development and hands-on education involving these technologies well before they reach the mainstream.
Consultants embrace the ownership or responsibility of a product for the long-term or put a transition plan in place from the start so that it can seamlessly be passed to another developer. The client retains full legal ownership. By ownership, we mean responsibility in a technical capacity, for the management of a product. Often, traditional development companies don't care what happens to the software once it's done. Hence corners are cut, and when the product is given to another software developer to fix, problems arise. Consultants will make sure your company has the blueprints for a product so that they can save time, money, and effort in the long-term.
Technical expertise isn't the best predictor of a successful consulting engagement, rather it is frequent, open and honest two-way communication between your consultant and you. And keep in mind that it is a mutually beneficial relationship, your consultant is not your employee. The client-consultant relationship is a lot like a patient-doctor relationship. Consultants, experts in their domain, assist clients and get paid for it. Consultants value clients who listen well, respect their expertise, are not overly demanding and pay on time. To find a great consultant, you may have to go through a few iterations, but once you do, it’ll be worth it.