Define your problem clearly
Before you contact anyone or start looking, you first need to know what you want to achieve and be very clear on your desired outcomes and success criteria.
All projects worth doing are filled with risk and uncertainty, but software development projects are especially so. Therefore, it is essential for you to know what success will look like, and ideally, it’ll be in a measurable, quantifiable form.
The following 7 questions are designed to help you think through and confront reality, and be well-prepared and able to engage with agencies.
This is not about you deciding what the solution to the problem should be, but being clear about the problem itself and how you will know that it is fully solved by the end of the project.
Key questions to consider
- What are the key problems you’re trying to solve? (And what do you believe are the root causes?)
- Have you considered alternative solutions? (Why/Why not?)
- What are the business objectives or goals you are aiming to achieve by engaging with an agency?
- How will you measure the success of the project?
- What risks or constraints can you identify at this stage?
- Have you considered your budget?
- What are you looking for in an agency?
Research & Make Contact
Write a briefing document
Now that you know more clearly what must be achieved you’re in a better position to write a brief to solidify your understanding and discuss within your organisation. You can optionally share it with prospective agencies too. Use the following headings to write the document:
Rationale, Key Outcomes, Success Criteria, Biggest challenges/pains, Timelines, Technical, Budget.
Create evaluation & selection criteria
Make Proper criteria and use it as the starting point to record potential agencies and the clear criteria you’ll use to evaluate them.
Use the criteria you define to create a list of questions you can ask and build a document for their answers. This will help you evaluate them more clearly and fairly to better determine value-for-money. Price alone is not a suitable comparison point. You need to consider what other artefacts will be produced and the quality checks and levels you can expect. Development cannot be reduced down to an hourly rate without knowing what the hours will produce.
As you make contact and go through your questions with each prospective agency, you may well come up with additional questions or criteria that you weren’t aware of or hadn’t thought about initially. Add these to your documents and address them with everyone else.
The key is to have a clear, consistent and fair set of criteria upon which you can base an informed decision.
Evaluation & Selection
Evaluation and disqualification
Each agency will have its own way of determining how it can help. Treat the process a little like speed-dating. Disqualifying each other should be seen as a positive thing, better you both find out at the earliest opportunity that things won’t work out – often this is a sign of a good agency – they know which kinds of clients they work better with, and can produce a better result for. They are saving you time by saying no to you. For example, you may have an aggressive timeline for good reason; they could be a busy agency and cannot be sure they can deliver what you need in time so they would rather not waste your time or theirs and let someone else have a better chance of serving you.
How to make better decisions
There are many techniques and whole books written on this topic but you can boil it down to these key steps. Let’s relate them to what we have been doing.
- Define your problem or challenge clearly (This was the purpose of Step 1)
- Generate some potential solutions (Step 2)
- Evaluate the options and make a selection (This step)
- Assess (The next step)
Make your decision by following a format like this. For each shortlisted agency you contacted, list the pros, cons, risks, opportunities and any other relevant notes. Place them side by side. You can optionally set scores (and weightings) for each of them based on your most important criteria identified in the first step.
When you have made your decision, document it by writing a short summary of why you made the decision you did. You’ll need to refer to it later in the next step.
Reduce your risk
An important factor to consider in your decision is how you can reduce the risk. Better agencies are likely to be looking to do the same from their side. One way this is done is through a smaller, less risky project. This can also form part of the larger goal.
For example, some agencies might have an onboarding sequence, an initial “Sprint Zero” or require discovery work necessary to build understanding and clearer deliverables. These often make great first projects which give both sides a chance to see how the relationship develops while limiting the scope and costs.
The outcomes should still produce useful information toward the larger goal.
Once you have made your decision and moved forward with the first engagement, choose a point to review your decision and, if necessary, modify your course of action.
Review your decision
Re-read your decision choice from step 3 and decide whether to continue the relationship or not.
If the expected mutual fit isn’t there, you can take any deliverables to another agency. While you may feel disappointed, it’s better to find out now at this early stage at a much lower cost than 90% of the way through the larger engagement and much more money spent.
Most decisions are reversible. At VPN Infotech, we have won many clients who chose another agency initially then found they didn’t live up to the promises made. This is why starting out with smaller projects are valuable – there’s no substitute for working together to truly evaluate a partner.
Can I help?
This was a brief crash course in how to more effectively evaluate development agencies and hire them. However, as I’m sure you’re aware there’s a lot more nuance and detail under the surface of what I’ve presented to you here.
I have been leading teams and building software for more than ten years, and I’ve learned what it takes to not only build great software but more importantly, how to communicate with all the stakeholders and ensure that the solution will deliver far greater value. If you have any questions about this resource, please feel free to email me at [email protected]
Of course, I’d be delighted if you would like to consider us as a potential development partner too.
If you’re struggling to find an agency for you, give me a call on +91 9978622301 and let’s see if we can help.