7 common mistakes to avoid when hiring a design & development firm

Armed with an idea, you need a software development company able to bring your vision to life. Your goal – hire the right team to deliver your application on time and within budget.

Finding the right software development partner can make or break your product vision and its success. Based on years of interactions with clients, we’ve observed the common pitfalls experienced in the quest to find the right software development firm. We’ve collected valuable insights about the types of expensive mistakes that clients made before partnering with us and gathered them here to share with you. Whether or not you choose to work with us, we encourage you to read further. You will not only benefit from the experiences of others, but you will reduce the possibility that yours will be a pricey “rescue project” that never meets stated goals and gain insight into the questions that will lead you to the best design and development partner – one that can deliver your product successfully.

What to Avoid

When seeking to outsource your project, it’s easy to become entangled in a web of promise presented by prospective vendors. We recommend that you resist this urge. It’s best to assume control and ask focused questions. To this end, we’ve listed mistakes to avoid:

1. Don’t hire a firm that wants to begin coding before conducting the requisite discovery and project scoping that will support your vision and business requirements.

Questions matter- the firm you hire will need to understand what pains your application will address, how target users will interact with your application, and what job(s) they want the software to do. Getting answers to these questions requires speaking with target users and applying their feedback in a manner that aligns with both your vision and the software design.

At Freeport Metrics, we use human-centered design methodologies to obtain the answers and insights needed to create an effective digital product. One of our clients enthusiastically approached us with a healthy budget and a long list of features all woven into a neatly presented business plan. After conducting research with end users to uncover needs and behaviors, followed by several in-depth discussions to prioritize requirements, we proposed a more targeted project scope that allowed our client to conserve funds and reallocate budget toward a sales and marketing effort. This gave them faster time to market as well as saving them money.

Further, an ability to grasp business goals is important. Be wary of firms that are too narrowly focused on the product or its features. Remember that this partner will be making many strategic decisions along your journey together; some may be small but others may have significant impact. Ensuring that their priorities and methods align with your business goals will increase the likelihood that they make the right decisions and trade-offs.

2. Don’t hire a firm that possesses strong design talent yet lacks coding expertise or vice versa.

Hiring a software development firm weak in either design or technical expertise presents a risk. Today’s user experience expectations demand a quality design to ensure user adoption. However, deep design skill is insufficient by itself to ensure software success. A common trap is to overspend perfecting your design only to end up with a product that is neither feasible nor buildable. In these situations, a design shop will hire a developer or two and build an application that may be unstable or incomplete. The reverse is also true. Complete focus on technical development can yield an application full of inelegant task flows and user navigation.

The bottom line is that a software firm’s approach and capabilities dictate how it interacts with both its client and the target users of the app. A high quality digital product is a result of the development process a software firm follows; it’s the process that provides the foundation for the design and coding expertise. And the coding capabilities of the development team ensure that the desired design is supported by quality code. Therefore, it’s important that the firm you hire places equal emphasis on and commitment to both.

3. Don’t hire a firm that makes great presentations yet has poor project management and communication skills.

Project management skill is critical to overall project success, particularly in situations where the software scope is broad and it makes more sense to break it down into smaller components. Project management has many moving parts and includes everything from product roadmapping, cost and delivery estimates, sprint burndown charts to design and code reviews and even user acceptance testing. It’s the project management expertise that a software firm provides to you that handles your change requests, that manages a development team in a different time zone, and that keeps you apprised as to the when your project will be release-ready. At Freeport Metrics, we believe that strong project management provides insight into your project status and provides transparency so that there are no surprises when you see the final result.

4. Don’t hire a firm that will ignore you after the contract is over and the software has been handed off to you.

This speaks to both maintenance and knowledge transfer. There is a fork in the road after launch date – you can either continue to outsource your coding work to the software development firm or you can build out a development team in-house. Either way, your project plan doesn’t end with the product launch. You will want a partner who can help to ease the transition by providing the expertise required to ensure your application’s longevity. Finding a firm that will negotiate post-delivery cost structures and even embed members of their development team into your company to ensure on-time delivery of new features and maintenance of existing code is critical to your business.

5. Don’t hire a firm that offers the lowest price but that lacks the appropriate technical or project management expertise.

It’s tempting to hire a firm based on price alone, but you want to consider many other parameters. What is their level of expertise and what experience do they have delivering quality software that meets requirements and is within budget? What is their credibility among past clients? Do they make themselves available for Q&A and review sessions? Are they accessible for in-person presentations and meetings? Will they communicate with you daily? How do you investigate a prospective firm? We believe people hire people and that experience and background matter. Because there are so many important questions to ask, we recommend that you not simply interview the management team but that you interview the team that’s going to do the work! Be skeptical if the proposal you receive highlights only senior team members. Does the firm have a junior team that will be assigned work? The odds are that there is more than one team. Your job is to vet them. Read their bios. Check LinkedIn. Who have they worked for? What have they delivered? These are the people who will make or break your product so their level of expertise matters. Remember the adage: Lower prices = lower quality.

Last, consider their questions. Make sure they listened to and processed your input. “Yes men” won’t get the job done in the manner most amenable to you. Look for push-back. That’s part of the value that a software development partner delivers. It’s a partner who will take you to the next level.

6. Don’t hire a firm that hasn’t been around for very long.

Stability and longevity matter. Tiny firms (a few freelancers agreeing to work together) or very new/young firms may lack the financial wherewithal to endure; they may not be around in a few years. Ask yourself how this will impact both your long-term support and your knowledge base if your development partner disappears. Be cognizant of a company’s reputation and customer base.

7. Don’t hire a firm that loves developing applications using unproven technologies.

Our recommendation - Avoid esoteric technologies. You’ll want a tech stack that is well known. If only a few people in the world can code in a particular language or technology, you may not be able to find experienced people to support your code base later. All technologies are at risk of obsolescence when too few developers adopt the technology. Without a critical mass of people using it, the technology dies off.

Identifying the right software development partner to create your product is a key component to achieving your vision. Your partner must not only possess deep design and development talent, but they must also understand your business goals and offer the appropriate support to achieve them. As you peruse the vendor landscape to find your ideal software partner, remember to ask the probing questions that allow you to derive the most value from your investment. Avoid these costly mistakes.

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