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How to choose a software developer

There are numerous articles on the web about how to choose a software or web developer and effectively communicate your needs with them.  The following article is our view of the process that is borne out of more than ten years of experience within the sector.

Data storage conceptThe recent article on Mashable on “How to Communicate your Software Needs to a developer” prompted this post. It was in essence, a guide to choosing a website developer NOT a software developer and caused a few people to question authors reasoning.

A lot of the advice in the article related to the front end a.k.a. the look and feel (design) as is to be expected on Mashable, given its target audience of website design not software development. Businesses need to differentiate between this very different skill sets as the process for selecting a developer for back end business systems is slightly different.

Our view on how clients should do their due diligence is not necessarily the right one, but it has delivered for both our clients and us for ten years now. We are not saying that we can do everything or service any client, in fact we know this isn’t the case and understand our limitations. This is why " as part of the due diligence process " the developer has to be selective in engaging with clients; taking on the wrong type of project can be detrimental to all concerned.

Our focus is on working with SMEs and represent the majority of our clients. We understand them, because we are one ourselves. This is important, because we understand the business issues that our clients face. Our business model is bespoke business software and therefore a good understanding of  a clients business is vital before can build a solution. It can also be argued that businesses of a similar size will communicate / behave in similar way and therefore should be a good match.

Following this reasoning, if a client came to us to develop a high end business to consumer (B2C) solution we would not be appropriate as we are not the right fit for them.  This isn’t always the case, but certainly where the focus is on creating a highly visual solution, historically we would steer away from them as we didn’t have a designer until recently.

We were recently talking to a client and it emerged that they are looking at a new business system to help manage their growth. They are investigating various options including Off the Shelf (OtS) software solutions designed for their vertical market. Their reasoning for this is they don’t know if they are working in the right way and they thought a vertical OtS products would provide them with answers to questions they didn’t know to ask (and sort of makes sense). We have had other clients that have gone down the Off the Shelf route for that reason, but with mixed results. Generally the OtS product has fulfilled some (but not all) of their requirements and there is  a lot of functionality they have never used.

If they had gone down the bespoke solution route would they have fared any better? They might have if the company understood the business enough and asked the right questions of the client. There is the risk however, that the right questions may not have been asked and the client wouldn’t have known because they themselves didn’t know the questions to ask. A bit like Donald Rumsfeld " you don’t know what you don’t know " confusing!

Asking the right questions can help you get the right results

The questions you should be asking yourself are:

  • Do we know what our business needs in order to be able to choose the right solution?
  • If not, can we find the the right person to ask those questions?
  • Does the software developer understand our business and if not do they have a process that will enable them to find out?
  • Do they undertake a full requirements capture that challenges our needs / wants?
  • Do we go down the Off the Shelf route, opt for a turn-key solution or go for a bespoke solution?
  • Can we work within the developers business model (see this post).
  • Will the end product give us the functionality we require to solve the key business issues?
  • Can we live with 70-80% of the functionality we require if we utilise an OTS solution. Is the missing 20-30 % going to impact on the effective operation of the business?

Whilst this not a definitive list of questions (and there will never be one) these will certainly help you start to think about your requirements and guide your search.

Resources:

Ayrmer Blog Software Architects

ICT Business Models

Original Mashable Article

32 Questions a software developer may have forgotton to ask a start-up

Date: 22/01/2013

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