The 4 Most Crucial Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Outsourced Development Team

by Lauren Schneidewind on February 9, 2016

The software development market is flooded with developers, consulting companies, and so called experts in their field. There are even trade schools that are pumping out beginner developers by the thousands (We actually really love this; however, we will save this discussion for another time). It can be a daunting task to sift through the seemingly endless stream of information being loaded onto the Internet. We have developed guidelines for the most important items we look for when trying to outsource some of our development needs.

Who will be working on our project?

We want to know exactly who will be working on our project. Rarely will the person doing the sales be the person actually writing the code. Before we hire a company, we must know everyone working on our project. I want to put a name to a face. I also want to look these people up and see what projects they have worked on and a little bit more about them. My personal go-to’s are LinkedIn, Github and Facebook. I check out LinkedIn to find basic information about the person; I check out their job titles, their connections and general feel for their career. Github is a great resource because this can provide a great deal of information about the actual work and code they have produced during their career. If a developer does not have a Github or equivalent account, I would probably question their validity in the field. Finally, I look at Facebook and hope they have their privacy setting up. I use all of this information as a guide in order to understand the person that will be working for me. I also want to speak to everyone working on my project and insure we do not have any obvious communication concerns.

We have become rather stringent on vetting the entire team working on our projects because we have seen this can significantly reduce the number of issues downstream after the project kicks off. We will actually not even consider a company, if we cannot get confirmation on who will be working on our project. We insist on all of this upfront work as a means to increase transparency and find red flags or conflicts before the project begins. This can save everyone a great deal of money, time and frustration.

Is there proper accountability for the duration of the project?

Once the team has been vetted, we now need to have complete transparency on the specifics of the project. We can do this by having accountability goals set up with the responsible party. It is also important to have a single name tied to each one of the action items; when more than one person is held responsible, loose ends tend to form. Each team will have differing methods to produce accountability, but the exact method does not really matter. We tend to adjust our accountability based on the clients and their particular needs. For example one of our clients has an on-going project that has been set up for weekly sprints. Every week we sit down with the client and go over the previous weeks goals and review the stories completed using Pivotal Tracker. This is a great app that tracks stories, allows for approvals, and it is a foundation for transparency between our developers and clients. We use it because it works for our team and clients, however, each team-client relationship is different and requires individual adjustments and optimizations. A few more examples of accountability goals can include: timelines, expectations, hours worked, stories delivered, milestones, phases, etc… A crucial feature for accountability goals is how obtainable they are and how they can be quantified in a meaningful manner. Adding number goals helps. (An example of one of my accountability goals for 2016 is to write 50 blog posts. This is easy to measure and easy to understand). The bottom line is that these items need to be defined before a project gets going. There is no right way or a wrong way to establish goals, it just matters that it is addressed and clear to all parties prior to work starting.

What are the billing practices?

Once again, we are addressing expectations and transparency. Billing can become a big issue and it needs to be addressed and consistent for the duration of the project. One of my favorite pieces of information in a contract is having a clear maximum weekly budget as well as for the entire project so that there are no surprises. We always let our clients know that their bill will never be higher than $XXX, without prior written consent. This means no one will be getting a surprise bill during a project and all work is being accounted for. Whatever a company’s billing practices, including payment schedules, just make sure all parties understand their expectations and responsibilities.

What happens when there is an issue?

The last piece of information I need to understand before I start a project is, what happens when an issue occurs? No matter how good a company is, some sort of issue will arise. The difference between an okay company and a great one is how they deal with issues that arise with communication. A few key items I look for are: whom do I contact, how do I contact them, and when should I expect to hear from them? To me a turn around longer than 24 hours to acknowledge my concern is never acceptable; I usually expect to hear something within a few hours unless I have been told someone is out of pocket. I have pretty tough standards with this one especially if I am paying for full time work.

These guidelines are great to use and feel free to alter as needed when hiring your own outsourced team for whatever your needs may be. This can be a pretty intense list and will require a great deal of legwork before a project even gets underway. Having a company really work for the deal can also provide useful information on whether or not they will be a good fit for your company after the sales process is over and indicate how well they follow through. The most important information is obtained by watching for patterns rather than direct answers to questions posed.

How do you vet developers? Do you looks for other indicators than the ones we listed above? I would love to start a conversation.

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