Effective Tactics for Vetting a Software or Web Development Partner

by Colin Kennedy - Jan 21, 2013

With so many software and web development partners on the market, how do you choose the most suitable to meet your business goals? Colin Kennedy shares years of experience in dealing with this challenge.

Neuron Global has achieved many successful partnerships over the years.

© Neuron Global

Being in charge of business development for Neuron Global means that I’m constantly being vetted by potential clients or partners. I’ve had almost every question you can imagine asked of me, which, believe it or not, I actually appreciate. In my experience, a thorough discovery period, one that is characterized by frank and open dialogue, creates the best working relationships. Why? The answer is pretty simple actually – finding a great partner all comes down to figuring out if there is an honest-to-goodness business fit between the two parties.

Despite the “simple answer”, figuring out if there is a good match between your organization and a development firm is harder than it looks. Development firms can specialize in so many different things and can “do business” in so many different ways…so Determining Business Fit should not be as superficial as judging “Are these people competent and trustworthy?” These factors MUST BE a given with any partner you work with…but there are other considerations that will have a major impact on whether or not your development relationship is horrible, fantastic, or somewhere in between.

Here’s where things can get tricky! So here are a few suggested topics that you should be covering in detail when vetting a potential partner:

What Do They Really Specialize In?

There are A LOT of languages and platforms out there, so it’s unlikely that even the largest development firms are proficient in “everything”. It’s much more likely that a development firm has a few legitimate in-house competencies, while the “everything” else that they claim to do might be getting handled by sub-contractors. This, in and of itself, doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it is important to understand the true depth and breadth of your potential partner’s technical expertise.

Who Will Be Communicating with You, and How Do They Plan on Communicating?

It’s an inescapable truth – web and software development projects are complex. Over the course of a project, requirements change, unforeseen technical blockers pop-up, timelines shift, and so on.  If there isn’t a clearly defined communication plan to address these issues, the project is more likely to suffer from the difficulties that arise when there are two different sets of expectations. By defining communications roles, identifying tools, and agreeing to protocols prior to the start or work, you put yourself in a position to effectively adjust to the changing project landscape.

What is Their Capacity and How Well Can They Scale?

You might be thinking, “Why does this matter? I’m only looking for a partner to take on my one project.” It’s important because your project can be impacted by all of the other projects your partner is working on…especially if they don’t have capacity (or an ability to add capacity). It’s just unrealistic to think that you’re partner will turn down new business opportunities. So the question you have to ask yourself is “How will my project be affected if my partner takes on a number of new projects while working on mine?”

How Do They Price Their Services?

They way your partner prices their work will tell you plenty about how they plan to manage your software project. Flat-rate pricing indicates that your partner has a pre-determined idea of how the project will play out. Pricing on a “per resource per month” basis indicates that there is too much complexity and variability for them to be able to accurately attach an exact dollar amount to your project. I say this to contextualize what I’m about to say: I don’t recommend asking your partner to price a project in a way that they don’t feel comfortable. Experience has shown that a disconnect between the pricing and management of the project can severely damage the integrity of the project and create an unpleasant situation for everyone involved.

Each of these bullet points deserves more explanation and detail – so if you’d like me to go into greater detail on any one in particular, please let me know!

Written by Colin Kennedy. Colin is a Founder and Executive Vice President of Business Development at Neuron Global