You’re launching a new app or starting an enterprise level software project and looking to outsource development. Time and resources are at stake, and you’ve been handed the responsibility for finding a technology consultant. How do you choose? And how can you be confident you’ve made the right choice? We’ll look at which questions to ask up front, how to spot red flags and why trusting your gut matters when it comes to making the big decision.
1. Do They Understand Your Business Strategy?
Always start with strategy. Your consultant should begin by interviewing you and taking the time to extract your business strategy. As a client, your job is to articulate your business case as clearly as you can. Their job is to listen, offer advice and insights, and then translate that information into solutions that match your objectives. This process is an art, and many companies out there focus on the technology alone and miss the gaps in the business strategy. The problem is that if you fail to address those gaps early on, your project may fail too. Seek out consultants who have strengths as business analysts as well as technologists.
- Do they understand your business enough to talk intelligently about the solutions?
- Do they have the experience and industry know-how to compare your strategy to other companies and offer advice and insights of value?
- Do they jump to granular level technology solutions before looking at the big picture?
- Can they translate your strategy to their technical people? Are those people in the room so they understand your objectives?
2. Can They Say No?
A good firm will be more interested in using innovation to get to a pragmatic solution that works than giving you what you think you want. In your initial conversations about strategy you should be gaining valuable advice and guidance – not just a sales pitch. How do you uncover their motivation as a company? They should be able to give you solid feedback about why your idea will (or won’t) work in its current form. Be wary of consultants who say “yes” to everything you say. Instead, look for a partner who can tell you when you should NOT spend your money and why.
- Are they looking for dollars? Or successful projects? Ask them for an example of when they told a client NOT to spend money on a project.
- Have they identified any aspects of your project that need further refinement? Or that may be out of their domain expertise?
3. Do They Have the Right Technical Skills?
Evaluating a firm’s technical skill set starts with understanding their specific areas of expertise and their past experience as managers and developers. Beyond this, dig deeper by asking them questions that reveal more about their approach and their motivation.
For instance, ask them what they think a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)would be for your project. Having them define the minimum they can do to get the product functional so you can test it will tell you a lot. If they throw up their hands at this question or come back and tell you they need to do the entire thing, they probably don’t understand your motivation for creating the project. Worse yet, they may not have the experience and discipline to uncover it. An MVP can help ensure success early on for the lowest cost possible.
You also want to ask them about their average project size by hours or cost. For example, if they’re typically used to working on a 40-hourproject and your project is 2000 hours, it is safe to say that yours will stretch their internal processes. And you may have to pay for their learning curve as they take on a project larger than their normal scope.
- Does their team currently have the technical skills needed to complete your project? Will they need to acquire additional skills and tools for it?
- Can they define your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
- What is their average project size in terms of hours or cost?
4. How Do They Develop Your Proposal?
Getting at the business strategy at the start of a project sets up the design/discovery phase for greater success. You should always have technical people in the room while you’re hashing out that strategy so they know how to map out the high level solutions you can all agree on. The design/discovery phase also should include project managers who are building out realistic timelines and milestones for development.
Your proposal should have detailed estimates, line by line, and a min-max range on your project’s tasks and milestones. It may be an estimate, but the more detail you have the better. A clear understanding at the outset goes a long way to keeping the lines of communication open between you throughout a project.
Consultants who blast past these phases will miss important aspects of your project. It may seem nice to have only three lines of explanation to read through in a cost proposal. However, if it’s vague there is a good chance that both of your expectations won’t match reality. Take the time – whether it’s a few days or even a few weeks – to make sure you’re on the same page.
- Who is involved in estimating your project, from initial strategy discussions to the design/discovery phase? Project managers? UX/UI team? Development team? QA?
- How detailed is your cost proposal? Are there line items and milestones?
- Is project management included in the proposal? If not, why not? Where does the firm account for those hours and are they included in the rate? How are those hours tracked?
5. Is Their Internal Process Transparent?
If your consultant is following an agile development philosophy, they will consider you as part of their team. This may mean that you have access to their project management software and can see where things stand at any given moment down to the line item. This kind of transparency may seem like overkill to clients who don’t think they need that level of detail, but it is an important internal discipline for any technology firm. Clients should feel confident that their consultant isn’t hiding anything and that their questions and clarifications are welcome. There are always unknowns and change orders when building a project, and having a constant back and forth among the team keeps everyone in the loop.
Even during your initial conversations, a consulting firm should be able to articulate very clearly what their internal process will be for communicating with you throughout your project. This includes what to expect in terms of reviews and approvals, as well as what happens when change orders, hours over budget, and bugs occur. If a consulting company can’t explain their internal process in a way you can understand it before you step into a project together, it is a red flag that you’re likely going to have problems understanding it when you’re in the process itself.
- What is the firm’s internal process? Have they explained what you should expect in terms of communication as a client?
- If they tell you you’ll get a status report every two weeks, ask them to provide a sample report. What kind of detail are they providing?
- What is their change order process?
- What happens when they get to the end of the project if you find bugs? Who fixes those bugs? Do you have to pay for those fixes? What if they show up a year from now?
- What does communication look like if the development team gets stuck on something? How will you know this is happening?
“If a consulting company can’t explain their internal process in a way that you can understand before get started, then you’re going to have problems.”
6. What’s Your Gut Telling You?
Finally, a successful relationship with your web developer comes down to trust. Ultimately, you need to have confidence in their ability to build what’s in your head. It also means having clear communication throughout that process, particularly when things need to change. From the beginning, pay attention to your communication styles. Do you expect a lot of transparency when they seem to be more of a black box? Fundamental differences in approach and communication can create a lot of frustration during a project. Finding the right fit sometimes comes down to following the intuitive hit you get during those first meetings.
- Have initial meetings face to face and ideally at their office to get a better feel for their personality, culture and environment. Do they feel in alignment with your own?
- Are you speaking the same language in terms of your business strategy?
- Do your early discovery sessions go smoothly or are you having difficulty communicating with each other?
- Are they up front and transparent about their processes and clarifying expectations?
Outsourcing your project to a technology consultant is a decision that deserves careful evaluation and thoughtful consideration. Make sure to take the time to get answers to the above questions so you get it right. Your success depends on it.