Inefficiency of your company’s existing software or the need for specialized software functions particularly suited to your business may prompt you to seek the services of a software developer. Your business may require custom software for applications such as contact management, invoicing or inventory. The mere thought of selecting a developer can be daunting if you are not technically minded, but be assured that your role in the selection process is one of assessing the developer, rather than that of assessing software technology. Successful software development relies heavily on a strong partnership with the developer. Thus, picking the right developer is crucial, and the following suggestions will assist you in hiring a reputable and proficient developer.
Establish your software requirements
Software development cannot occur without a well structured and clearly defined set of your business’s software requirements, as the work is in essence a process of addressing needs and solving problems. Consequently, development success will depend largely on the time and effort you dedicate to this stage of the process. It is only by analyzing needs and desired functions that a developer can provide you with as accurate a job proposal and cost estimation as possible.
Be extremely thorough and precise at this stage, including key employees’ suggestions and needs, and compile a comprehensible requirements document, separating the mandatory needs from the optional. Draw up a list of potential developers by asking businesspeople you know for recommendations or by researching web directories. Send them the requirements document, as well as information about your company (such as business objectives) and your budget, so that they can in turn provide you with a job proposal and quotation.
Assess the candidate developers
A preliminary assessment of developers’ written proposals and quotations should give you a good indication of their suitability in addressing your needs, but a final decision should be determined by in-person interviews as well. Meeting face-to-face is crucial in evaluating not only the candidates’ services, but their personalities and communication skills too. The latter two are vital aspects in ensuring a strong collaborative partnership with the company, which will largely determine the success of the software development. In your assessment of the potential developers, consider these factors:
Experience and expertise
You will obviously want to hire someone who is proficient in the field and keeps abreast of the latest software technology trends and discoveries. Be sure that the candidate is a genuine software developer able to suggest solutions to your problems, and not merely a programmer who wants exact instructions on what program he or she should write. Also be careful of developers who are preoccupied with their particular area of technology specialization at the expense of your particular needs. A good developer should provide you with the type of technology most suited to your requirements.
It is preferable to choose a developer who is both experienced in their own domain and familiar with your particular industry. The reason for this is that they will be aware of the common types of needs (both clearly stated and implied), problems and general expectations in your line of work.
Visiting a candidate’s website should give you a good indication of these aspects, but the best and most direct way to determine a candidate’s experience and expertise is to contact former and current clients. Ask them specific questions about the development company’s general service delivery, response to problems, and the efficiency of the developed software.
You can ask to see samples of software, and test it yourself to see whether it is user-friendly (although remember that training will be provided) and effective.
Industry awards are also obviously a good indication of a company’s expertise.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both big companies and sole proprietor situations. A big company may house all the skills and services needed by your requirements, but you run the risk of getting lost among many clients. The opposite is true for a small company or sole proprietor. Therefore, size is not an important deciding factor. Rather, make sure that the developer you choose can cope with the size of your company, and either cover all your requirements or be able to outsource specialized skills to reputable contacts.
Personality and communication skills
This may sound trivial, but your instinctual like or dislike of the person or group is significant in the selection process. You will be working in close partnership with the developer, discussing problems which can become draining and difficult, so it is vital that you get along. The ability to communicate clearly and patiently, without loads of jargon, is also imperative. Software development entails your description of needs and problems being translated by the developer into functional solutions. Misunderstandings are inevitable in such a complex communication situation, therefore be sure that a good basic level of interaction is evident from the start.
Note too their interest in the work and in your vision. Passion for a subject will generate creative problem solving.
Your company will need technical and administrative support during and after software implementation. This includes staff training, user-manuals or help documentation, and debugging of software. The company should also be committed to the general improvement of your software and the software should support integration with your existing applications and major systems, and comply with all platforms. These issues, along with specifications of the amount of support provided, should be clearly stated in the contract.
This is another factor which should not solely determine your choice of developer. Software development is a complex process and you should expect to invest a substantial amount of money in the process.
More important issues of price in choosing a developer are those of costing methods and charging for changes. Avoid companies that charge hourly rates without specifying the amount of time that the job will take. A good developer should be able to make a fairly accurate cost estimation that constitutes fixed fees, providing that your requirements have been clearly and completely stated. Be prepared, however, for possible added costs later in the development process if changes are needed (which they usually are). Changes cannot be predicted, but be certain that you understand the developer’s means of dealing with and charging for changes (this should also be stated in the contract).
An important aspect that should be stated in the contract is that of licensing. Ensure that you will be able to use the software on all the computers that you need to, and be aware of any specific copyright claims the developer might have.
A guarantee as to the product’s effectiveness should also be stated.
Begin the development
After considering all these factors in the evaluation of candidates, you should be able to hire one that you are happy with. After signing the contract and starting the development, remember that communication is key. Address problems and announce required changes as early in the process as possible. The beginning of development will involve a more in-depth analysis of your company needs by the developer. This may include interviews and observation, and should demand a fair amount of your time. Keep in mind, however, that this is the most crucial phase of development and therefore a sound investment of time. The developer should then provide you with a functional specification of your requirements, which can be signed off to commence the project. Make certain, however, that signing off the requirements does not bind you to them, but allows for changes to be made for an added fee. The remainder of the process entails the development of prototype(s), testing, implementation and post-development training, support and maintenance.