David Dobson

5 not so obvious things to consider when qualifying a development partner

Over the last 2 decades I’ve watched how companies evaluate and choose a development partner.  Some are given to impulse and others are highly analytical and methodical in their approach.  Of all the things I’ve learned, five things stand out as potential decision drivers that need to be excluded from the process.

  1. Keep politics out of the equation – find the best company for the job.
    Don’t let friends or former colleagues cause you to pursue a less qualified business partner.  Your product will make or break your business, so find a development team that has the experience and expertise to do the job well.
  2. Beware of the ‘virtual company’.
    Cobbling together a geographically dispersed team of experts in order to tackle a complex product development program sounds appealing, but it usually doesn’t work out as well as advertised.  Highly effective teams need to collaborate and be in close proximity to one another, and they need to have worked in this manner for some time.  They need to have already struggled through the inevitable lumps and bumps of different personalities and communication styles before they start applying their energies to your project.  They shouldn’t be doing this on your dime.
  3. Raw skill sets are only part of the picture – cultural fit is equally important.
    You need to first understand the unique ways in which your internal team works before you set out to find an external partner that can come alongside and add value.  You need to determine if the communication style, problem solving methodology and pace of work align between groups.  If there isn’t alignment in these areas, it doesn’t matter how great the experience and skill sets are in your partner – your project will stumble due to incompatibility and ineffective communication.
  4. Consider the total cost of a development project – not discrete components.
    Trying to drive project costs down by nitpicking each stage of development only leads to frustration and inefficiencies.  Innovation does not materialize with the least amount of effort.  Meaningful innovation is the result of a well led, cross-functional team examining a problem from a number of angles.  What really matters in the end, is the quality of the ‘answer’.  The commercial value of your product hinges on whether you get this answer right.
  5. Time to market is what really matters.
    Understanding the productivity of your contract development team is more important than negotiating a lower hourly rate.  If a partner can get you to market earlier, with a well thought out and targeted product, isn’t that worth a higher initial investment?

There are many, easy to determine factors a company needs to consider when choosing who they’ll work with.  Most criteria are obvious.  After many years and assignments, I’ve come to understand that the greatest risk to a company’s success, comes not from decisions made on the tangible and obvious, but rather from choices made in the less apparent, harder to discern, ‘soft side’ of the business.

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