Selecting a Software Development Company in 2024
December 11, 2023
Understanding your needs
Identifying the skills you truly need is paramount as different firms boast distinct skill sets. Here are some items to think about:
- Have you defined the functionality?
- Is user interface and graphic design a necessity? Do you have the basics already defined and merely need them fleshed out? Or is your project a clean slate?
- Are there complexities revolving around algorithms or databases?
- Do you anticipate scale issues presently or in the future?
- Are specific technologies or platforms involved in your project?
You’ll discover firms that are prolific in design/interface and light on development, and vice versa. Some offer specialized skill sets like expertise in a particular programming language or framework, or specific domain knowledge. Depending on your needs, a combination of these skills may be desirable. In fact, you might have to secure them from diverse people/firms.
This article will primarily focus on locating and evaluating development companies, rather than design firms. If you require user interface or graphic design, the selection process will differ slightly. Some of the information below will apply. Ensure that you investigate the designers’ past work, samples of their work product, and their process. Know who will be undertaking the actual work, and who will be acting in a supervisory or account role.
Here’s what to consider
Experience and Portfolio: What type of projects has the company completed? Who was involved in those projects, and are they still part of the firm? Has the company handled projects similar to yours? Do they have experience with the technologies involved in your project? Make certain you explore these projects. Were they finished on time and on budget? Did the clients consider them a success? Are they publicly available?
Beware of being swayed by big-name firms or impressive name-dropping. Although noteworthy, working with large corporations differs remarkably from working with startups. Understand exactly what the company contributed to each project. Be wary of firms that claim portfolio items which were executed at a different company/role—unfortunately, this practice is not uncommon, especially in newer firms.
Quality of Work: The end product should not only look good but function as expected. Don’t be charmed by an impressive aesthetic at the expense of functional results. While the appearance matters, remember you are hiring the development firm primarily for its development skills, not its graphic design skills.
Inquisitiveness: Prior to starting the project, you should receive an estimate of the work effort. To provide an accurate estimate, the firm should ask a multitude of questions. Our blog post 53 Questions Developers Should Ask Innovators has a list of questions any good development team would ask. Companies that quote without inquiry are either oblivious to the questions required or uninterested in understanding your actual needs. Avoid them.
Assess the Company’s Website: The company’s own site provides a clue to its dedication to aesthetics and content. However, an overly attractive site could indicate a leaning towards design over development.
Employee and Contractor Details: How many full-time W2 employees and contractors do they employ, and where are they located? If so, what’s the vibe like? What are the employees and contractors’ skills?
Project Management: Get a clear understanding of the company’s process. How do they verify the ongoing progress of development? How do they handle testing? What are the review periods and your responsibility in the process? Ensure you know what each side expects from the other.
Budget and Deadlines: Determine if budgeting and deadlines are flexible. How does the percentage of their projects launched on-time and on-budget compare to upfront estimates?
Communication: Evaluate their communication style. Is there a project manager? An account manager? Will you have direct access to a lead developer? While beneficial, some project managers hinder effective communication.
Support and Maintenance: After the launch of your application, what support does the company provide? Do they assist with the transition to in-house or other developers? How do they handle hosting and support?
Client Retention: Do they have repeat or long-term clients?
References: The company should willingly provide references. Consider also reaching out independently to people at companies mentioned in their portfolio, accessible via LinkedIn.
Potential red flags
The following issues can suggest potential risks:
- Lack of inquisitiveness
- Not discussing mobile strategies
- Recommending outdated technologies
- The firm’s age (less than two years old)
- The company’s size (fewer than 10 people)
- Price significantly lower than competitors
- Lack of maintenance planning post-launch
- Disinterest in learning about you or your project
- A high-pressure sales environment
In summary, ensure the company you choose aligns with your specific needs and shares your enthusiasm for the project. It’s a strategic choice that extends beyond a one-time development process and into anticipating future needs. By following these guidelines, you’ll be better equipped to select a web development company that accurately reflects your project aspirations.