You don’t need a degree in computer science when hiring a software development company. It’s simply a matter of asking the right questions—and paying close attention to the answers.
A high-quality software solution can make a tremendous difference in the way your business operates. Good software erases inefficiencies by creating better solutions to daily frustrations. It also frees up time, so you have the space to explore new ideas and initiatives for your business. In short, the right custom software solution opens up huge new possibilities for success.
IF you choose the right development team
Here are several questions to ask when interviewing companies for your next custom software development project.
Tell us about your project management philosophy.
Custom software development projects are complex and rarely unfold exactly according to plan. Timelines and budgets can change. Unexpected slowdowns or hiccups can occur at a moment’s notice. Good project management is vital to maintain progress and strong communication, even when the unexpected occurs.
But project management is not simply a matter of getting things done. It’s an incredibly nuanced and valuable skill that takes time to develop. Good project managers are masters of finding and defining clarity, even amid chaos. Project management is about staying nimble and finding creative solutions to maintain momentum. It requires strong leadership and communication skills and a team PM culture that embraces fresh thinking and flexibility.
Ideally, you want someone who is passionate about good project management and has a clear strategy in place. They should talk about how they stay focused and help you keep a clear head when things change unexpectedly. If they seem disinterested or directionless when talking about project management, reevaluate.
Also, listen carefully for signs that the whole team is on board with their approach. In some cases, that enthusiasm doesn’t extend any farther than the leadership team. Look for a software developer whose entire staff cares deeply about good work, strong collaboration, and the end user experience.
What’s your approach to problem solving?
For millennia, the horse-drawn carriage was a perfectly satisfactory vehicle for moving people and cargo from one place to another.
Of course, horse-drawn carriages were not without their problems. Horses are living creatures that need to eat and sleep. Navigating a carriage over certain types of terrain was cumbersome and risky. The ride was bumpy, but it was the best system available. Manufacturers only sought to mitigate these “systemic” issues.
We needed a better system.
If humans only thought about problem solving on a small scale like this, we’d still be riding around in horse-drawn carriages. But someone had the audacity to dream bigger and look beyond the problem to the opportunity.
Today, we drive comfortable, climate-controlled cars to the store and back in minutes. And we have those big dreamers to thank.
This opportunistic approach to problem solving is what you should look for in a software development company. Any development team can make software, but the best are creating elegant solutions to business process problems.
Truly exceptional software development companies will work with you to dig deeper into your business. They dig into the details—even some that may seem irrelevant—in order to map out a solution that delights.
Listen carefully when you talk to potential software development partners about problem solving. If they just fixate on running bug reports and the like, they probably don’t have the capacity to think bigger. You want someone who sees problems as possibilities, not just a series of milestones.
What’s your process for understanding business models?
A flair for problem solving often goes hand-in-hand with strong business acumen. In other words, you want a software development company that understands how your business works.
Here’s an example. Your business may process massive quantities of inventory on a daily basis. You’re primarily looking for a better inventory management system, but you’re also on the hook to send daily inventory reports to regulatory agency for compliance.
A run-of-the-mill software development company will just build you a generic inventory management system. Whereas a great software development company will ask you questions about those compliance requirements, such as, what the reports look like, what data you need, and why.
They will then build a system with a turnkey reporting function that will create those reports for you in a few clicks. A developer who understands your business model will address issues adjacent to compliance reporting, as they strive to make things easier and faster.
Every business has its own challenges, but the punchline remains the same: You want a software development partner that will learn the ins and outs of your business model before they start writing code.
Tell us about the people you work with.
It’s hard to fake a healthy culture.
When you hire a software development company, you are at the mercy of their commitment to investing in and developing their talent.
A good software development company understands the importance of hiring great team members and invests accordingly. Get them to describe how they find and develop the right people. Allow for a little humble bragging when they describe how they work to keep their people engaged and happy.
Of course, “company culture” can be a nebulous concept. Some companies think it’s just a matter of free snacks and foosball. Employee satisfaction is the product of respect, flexibility, encouragement, and other concepts that are much harder to quantify than salary.
So how do you evaluate the culture of a software development company? Here are some clues:
- Do team members seem like they really care about your project? Are they asking thoughtful questions that indicate depth of thought about your situation?
- Do they seem like the kind of people who are pleasant to work with?
- What’s their body language like? Are they leaning forward, looking you in the eye, and responding with nods and gestures when you speak?
Paying attention to the verbal and nonverbal signs, will give you a good sense of others’ engagement level: at least, enough to trust your gut.
How do you handle security concerns?
You’d be surprised how often companies don’t think about security until the project is nearly complete. They end up treating it like an add-on feature at the last minute. This causes major problems in the final stages of the project, from user interface disruptions to security gaps.
Security should be part of the conversation from Day 1, so those features are fully incorporated into the final product. This ensures seamless integration of every feature and a truly secure product. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about how—and when—they handle security concerns.
Once you trust that the company takes security as seriously as you do, ask about security testing. A good software development company will have a plan in place to test every feature of your software for vulnerabilities. They should use a combination of manual methods and automated tools to ensure a comprehensive sweep.
When in doubt, remember this: Be wary of a company that brushes off your concerns about security. If they treat it like an issue easily addressed at the last minute, they may not be the right match.
Do you consider yourself a leader in the software development industry?
It’s one thing to be a great developer, but it’s another to be a leader.
Serena Williams is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. She didn’t earn that title by learning to play every sport. She mastered the art and science of tennis.
There are plenty of athletes who can jump into a pickup game and do great. But they can’t compare to Williams, Michael Phelps, and other genuine leaders in sports.
Similarly, there are thousands of companies making software—even good software! However, truly great software is the product of a clear vision and mastery of a handful of markets. A jack-of-all-trades software development company will always struggle to get up to speed with unfamiliar industries and applications.
These companies—the ones that stick to a clear path—are the true leaders. They’re the ones paving the way forward and setting the example for the industry. If you want excellent software, created by the best of the best, you want these guys.
Of course, excellence and humility often go hand in hand, so you’ll need to read between the lines when asking this question.
Some companies will be open about their thought leadership activities, while others will be a bit more bashful. Pay attention to whether they come across as generalists or demonstrate specifically what they do best.
You might also check their website and social media platforms to see if they’re sharing thought leadership content. What they say publicly can tell you a lot about their values.
How fast can we turn this around?
This question is a little sneaky, but the point is critical: have a conversation about quality.
There’s a common quip in the business world that asks: “Fast, cheap, or good? Pick two.” This is true of restaurant meals, home improvement work, or hiring a software development company.
In simple terms, quality takes time. Great software companies know that quality suffers when things move faster than adequate care and attention allow for. Cutting corners or skipping steps always comes back to bite you.
Hire a company that’s in it for the long haul, and strives for mastery of their craft. Look for a commitment to next-level quality.
There’s another layer to this: Great software companies aren’t ashamed to ask for more time. Some are so fearful of losing leads or clients they’ll promise the moon—and fail to deliver. But the leaders know their best clients will wait for a truly great product.
The above question—“How fast can we turn this around?”—can tell you a lot about a company’s philosophy. If the timeline sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Listen for a bias toward quality over speed.
The question behind all the questions when hiring a software development company
Even if the initial project only takes a few months, you want a company you can turn to again and again. Plus, you’ll likely need their help to refine your software over time as you make adjustments to your processes and business model.
So treat it like any other hiring process. This means:
- Spending time with those who will be directly involved so you can gage aptitude and personality fit.
- Asking for references from their current customers.
- Talking openly about the budget to ensure financial compatibility.
Due diligence is key to ensuring the right match from the beginning. By taking the time to find the right match, you’ll have years of successful collaboration ahead of you.