Twelve Questions to Ask a Potential Software Development Supplier

date: 9 March 2020
reading time: 8 min

In today’s fast-moving technological world, businesses need to consider the importance of decisions regarding their operations and strategic agility. Including the latest technologies in their products plays a major role in ensuring their competitiveness in the software market. One of these decisions may include choosing to outsource a software development project.

Outsourcing has consistently proven to be an efficient and effective business model that, while helping to reduce operating costs, also significantly boosts profit margins and helps counter the increasing IT talent shortage. The business model of outsourcing is inherently very scalable, as it enables companies in any market to adjust resource allocation as they change.

While considering a software development partner or supplier for outsourcing, selecting the right vendor is arguably one of the most crucial steps. Factors like geological location, cultural differences, time-zone differences and the quality of the developers play a critical role when narrowing down potential suppliers. Selecting the right vendor is also very important as, for an IT partnership to be successful, both organisations need to be satisfied with working with each other.

Failure of the entire project is a real possibility if you do not choose the right software development supplier. The key is to get the right information from your potential supplier to help you make the best possible decision. Getting the right information requires asking the right questions.

While questions like rates, billing practices, contracts, and deadlines are important, they should not be your only criteria. Some of the important questions that must be asked, in order to gauge whether a potential software development supplier will be able to deliver, are:

Tell me about your company and the team I will be working with.

When approached for a project, most companies have a predefined pitch ready. The content of the pitch and the style it is delivered in tells a lot about how the organisation sees itself, how it sees its customers and what values it believes in, as well as stand for. This can give you a good sense of whether the company will fit with yours.

Additionally, you can also ask about the years of experience the company, as well as the average experience of the developers assigned to your project’s team. You may also want to ensure they have specific developers, UI/UX designers and project managers. If they have not specifically addressed who will be on your project team, you may want to ask again.

Have you ever worked on a project that was similar to mine?

This question can help you ensure they have a successful record of accomplishment on projects similar to yours or at least those in the same ballpark. The focus should lie on gauging the experience in developing similar features, using the technical stack and working in the same industry as yours. You can additionally probe further by asking what they did to specifically make each product successful. 

How can you ensure that you completely understand the requirements of my project?

A gap between what you have in mind and what your development supplier builds can cause the complete failure of your project. It is decisive that the software team working on your project has a clear and comprehensive understanding of your business issues, deadlines, objectives and budget.

It is also equally imperative that they validate their understanding with you and explain the solutions they propose.

What technologies does your company specialise in?

If you have started the development of your software or wish for some particular technology to be used in your project, it is important to ensure that the software development supplier knows the required technology well. It is also good to check what technologies they specialise in and how fast they are to adapt to new technologies. A good development supplier will not only be able to propose a certain solution but will also be able to tell you why it is the best possible solution for your requirements.

While the list of technologies the company specialises in is good to know, it is equally important to know how many employees in the company are actually familiar with the technology you’re interested in. You may even ask for blind CVs of developers with just the experience in technologies, as well as some other proofs of seniority level.

What is your design and development process, and why?

A good, reliable, repeatable process that is organised, consistent, and supports quality control is necessary for a software development partner to be good. The process of deciding upon the development process should be thoughtful, based upon practical experiences and up to the industry standards. You also need to ensure that their process includes the delivery of evidence-based point-of-view and suggestions of ideas that add value to the product.

They should talk about things like Agile processes, quality control, testing, logging, etc. You also need to ensure that the development process is transparent and that the development team is accountable.   

How and when will you communicate during the lifecycle of the project?

Communication is very crucial in a software development project. The goal should be to ensure open communication and a transparent development lifecycle. You need to ensure that the potential supplier has a set communication protocol in place.

They should be able to address who, when and how, including a format for possible updates. They should also mention the tools that they will be using and explain the integration of those tools. Mentioning the primary points of contact is also imperative. You can ask the degree of continuity they can promise during the lifecycle of the project. For example, can they ensure that you will have the same development lead and project manager for the entire duration of the project?    

What level of involvement is expected from me during the project?

To get the requirements right and completely understand your business needs, potential software development suppliers will require a lot of time and your active involvement. Your participation should be beyond updates and reviews for the project to be successful.

Good outsourcing companies should expect you to be heavily involved and should present clear expectations of what degree of involvement they would prefer to have from you.

How does your product increase my chances of success and how does it reduce my risk?

This question can be used to gauge and estimate how well a potential outsourcing company understands your business, goals and priorities. You may also want to ensure that they will bring an entire business perspective to the project.

A good partner will be able to present you the key tenets of their development process. You must also ensure that they address your concerns, such as market viability, cost and schedule overruns, security, team continuity, etc. 

What files will I have access to during the development of the product?

It is necessary to know what is going on in your project during the development phase. If the potential software development supplier practices transparency and honesty, it becomes easier to trust them.

Ask for what type of files you have access to during the development lifecycle. This could include things like source code, project management dashboard, time reports, performance reports, etc.   

What happens after the delivery of the product?

All software products require post-deployment support. You need to ensure that your potential supplier is capable of providing this support. They should be able to address problems and bugs that may surface after the launch of the product. Likewise, they should have the ability to implement new features, if you desire them.

You also need to make sure they address who the owner of the intellectual property (IP) is. Further questions can ask about the warranties and service guarantees they provide.

What if I end up unsatisfied with the end product?

It is imperative to ask a potential product development supplier how they ensure the high quality of a product. Subsequently, it is also important to ask what your options are if they fail to deliver on the quality promised.

They should be able to provide a quality guarantee and to present your options in case you end up being unsatisfied with the software product received.

Can you provide me with some references from your earlier clients?

References are like reviews in the software development outsourcing world. You should request the company references from previous clients and ask them to explain their project in detail.

Additionally, you can also check third-party websites like Clutch, where you can find detailed reviews of businesses,  based on interviews. They provide a detailed overview of each company, which includes aspects such as quality of work, productivity, project management, scheduling, cost and potential areas of improvement.

CONCLUSION

There are many software development companies out there. Choosing the right software development supplier can be a daunting task. However, using the aforementioned questions, you can make the best possible choice for your software project and compare IT partners. While asking the right questions, also make sure you are listening for the right answers.

There are a plethora of highly qualified and impressive companies in the market. That being said, it is important to choose what’s right for you and what fits your requirements. Choosing a company that not only gets the job done but also understands your business and keeps your interests at the forefront of every decision will ensure the best possible chance at success. 

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