So, you have decided to work with a web development agency. Before the actual software development begins, you will have to search for the right team, interview a few different software houses, and finally – choose the right one for you and your needs. In this article, we’ll advise you on what to pay special attention to while deliberating between options, ultimately increasing your chances of choosing the most reliable team.
Web development company – how to choose the right one
How to find a web development team
At the beginning, it is a good idea to select a few companies and start discussions with all of them (for example, you can send out an initial inquiry with a preliminary project description).
Where to find them?
You can always ask for a friend’s recommendation – A positive review from a trusted friend or colleague always boosts a software house’s credibility.
But, even if a company is recommended to you by a friend, it is still a good idea to explore other potential contractors on the Internet – this will allow you to compare offers and experience. Websites such as Clutch.co, Interaktywnie.com or www.justjoin.it/brands will help you find company profiles. Each web development agency also has its own website, so you can simply Google search “web development company”, or refine your search to “software house + city name”.
We recommend sending inquiries to several companies (5-7) who appear to be a good fit for your project’s needs in terms of both portfolio and technology.
How to describe a project
A clear description of the project is very important – this will allow you to get an answer faster (i.e. receive an offer). Moreover, a detailed description helps the software company understand the scope of the work.
The initial description should be brief. It is advisable to answer the following questions:
- What is the product?
- What are the goals of the project?
- What are the main functionalities of the web application?
Are there any similar projects that can serve as a reference? If so, it would be very useful to mention even one such example and highlight any differences. It is always easier for a software house to understand customer expectations if they have a relevant example as a reference. It is worth showing both functional and visual patterns.
Are there any unknowns in the resulting project? It is also a good idea to describe these.
Do you have any questions for the software house? This is a good time to ask.
If the project already has a described specification, or any prepared mock-ups/ layouts, add them to the query.
Touching on all of these points will allow the web development team to understand your primary needs from the start and assess whether such implementation is within their capabilities. It is also a good idea to include a few of your own questions in the first message. This way, you will learn more about potential contractors. Below you will find examples of such questions that may be helpful for You.
“What is your usual method of billing?” – the fixed price method (fixed rate for the entire project) or time & materials (billing for working hours)?
Have you worked on similar projects in the past?
Ideally, the answer to that last question will be “Yes!” followed by a few helpful examples of similar, earlier projects (if examples aren’t provided, ask for some). Often, however, especially if the project is atypical, the company won’t have any experience with similar projects . This is quite common. In this scenario, it’s a good sign if the company describes why they would still be able to successfully implement the project. Perhaps they can do it, but haven’t had the opportunity to implement something quite like this just yet.
Sometimes you may hear “yes, we have implemented such projects, but we have an NDA (non disclosure agreement) and we cannot show them”. Unfortunately, this tends to happen quite often. In such a situation, you can ask them to describe the project without providing detailed data. It may also be possible to present anonymised parts of the system online.
Do you have any initial comments on the described project?
The answers to this question can, of course, fluctuate greatly. But, if you receive a substantive tip, an indication of potential problems, identification of errors in assumptions, and suggestions for better solutions – there is a good chance that you are talking to a quality software house :)
Conversely, no questions and a quick overall quote from a web development team often means a very cursory analysis of your information. This approach may eventually result in further complications (e.g. attempting to change the estimate in later conversations, or problems with fulfilling the contract).
What is the estimated project implementation time?
At this stage, you probably won’t know the exact schedule, but contractors should be able to provide an approximate time, e.g. estimated time period. This can be useful information for you, especially when comparing offers.
What is your typical process for implementing a project like mine?
This is a simple question, but it forces the software house to write something. This will also come in handy later when comparing offers. For companies that have structured processes, such a question should not be a big problem. Chaotic and disordered teams, on the other hand, will have to come up with a quick answer, giving you a chance to reject them at the selection stage. The “correct” answer should talk about collecting requirements, the contract, making a prototype, methodology for managing the application development process (eg scrum), testing, the publishing method for the finished web based application, and a service warranty.
If you have a specific budget, be sure to make that known, at least within a general price range – this way, only companies that are able to fit in such a budget will remain in further discussions, saving you time (& money).
Clearly presenting what you need and proactively asking your own questions will quickly gather a lot of information about potential software houses. This proactivity is justified since you are going to invest your, often considerable, money.
Conversations with software houses
Responses to your inquiry can be very different because there are numerous companies and tons of different project varieties. Conversations will take place via e-mail/online chat or perhaps you can make an in-person appointment. Point blank, you want to determine if each web development agency is able to execute your order well, for how much and for when. The software house will also want to establish these three things. Although your goals are similar, your perspectives differ and several elements can lead to difficulties:
- An unreliable software house may want to convince you that they are able to implement the project – despite not actually having the means to do so correctly. This can happen for a variety of reasons; sometimes it is intentional, other times it is due to sheer ignorance, and it can also occur due to internal pressure (poor sales, for example). That is why it is important for you, the client, to get to know each contractor you consider. Don’t stop at passively accepting information from sales people. Ask questions, view the websites & portfolios, analyze customers & testimonials – it doesn’t take all that much time, but this approach will provide valuable information. You can also search more widely on the Internet, for example on websites that publish employee opinions (e.g. www.gowork.pl), or on the company’s fanpage.
If you have inaccurately described your project or accidentally omitted important information – this can cause problems in the next stages of cooperation. If a specific requirement does not appear at any stage of the arrangements or contract, the software house may not include it in the valuation or in the schedule. For instance, even if it seems absolutely obvious to you that your online store should have a blog – it must be written down and discussed with the potential contractor :).
What to pay attention to during preliminary talks:
- Does the software house communicate openly and frequently? Do they ask the right questions and answer your questions? Do you feel they have a proper grasp on your project?
- Does the software house respond relatively quickly (e.g. within 1-2 days) and regularly? Is the content written carefully and without errors? Does communication stop suddenly for a few days for no reason at all? All of this matters. These factors show the reliability of a company and reveal how a collaboration will go.
- Is the need to sign a contract obvious to everyone? A contract is standard and protects both parties.
Pricing and offer
There are different ways to evaluate and account for IT projects. In Poland, the fixed price method is most often used. In this case, it is important to precisely define all requirements before signing the contract. Once you receive quotes from selected companies, apart from the price comparison itself, you should pay attention to the following:
- Does the quote explain the individual elements of the project, or is it a singular amount? If it is one amount, don’t hesitate to ask how that number was produced. Basic billing elements that can be expected include the cost of web development services, PM (project management), QA (tests), and post-implementation support. Also, regarding work related to design: UX (functional prototype), layout design. This will also be useful when you compare the valuations from several companies.
- If you want to rethink the final shape of your project, you can ask for more detailed information on the valuation: which amounts are related to which individual requirements? This way, you will be able to reduce (or increase) the number of requirements with full knowledge of how it will affect the price.
- What will happen if the requirements change (for example, a new idea comes up, or something turns out to be more complex than expected). How are these changes accounted for?
- If billing is based on an hourly rate (without a fixed price), you should find out how and how often you will be informed about work progress. What are the hourly rates for each type of work (e.g. front end developer, backend developer, PM, QA etc.)?
A work sample
If choosing the best web development team is still a tough choice, or if you’re afraid of making a mistake, there is another way. You can separate a small fragment from your project and commission its implementation. As a rule, you will have to pay for it, but if the selected software house turns out to be cooperative, you and the contractor can just keep working together. However, if things don’t go well during that fragmented task (i.e related to communication, implementation, etc), you will be able to withdraw from working with that firm. This way, you will avoid a potentially large loss (money and nerves) at a relatively low cost.
It sometimes proves difficult to identify a fragment of a project that, on one hand, will allow you to properly assess a contractor’s work, and on the other hand, will definitely still prove usable even if things don’t go well with that software house. This isn’t always easy but it is doable.
So, you sent a short but precise description of your project to several software houses. You wrote what should be done. You’ve talked with several companies about the method of implementation and detailed requirements. You’ve checked each of the companies and now reached the stage where you have a few meaningful offers to choose from.
First of all, you should keep a cool head. Keep in mind that if one offer looks too good to be true in terms of money or time, especially compared to all other offers, it probably is. These super attractive offers look great when signing a contract, but often prove problematic when it comes time to show results. In such a scenario, it’s worth taking a harder look at the attractive offer and company. Perhaps they really can do what they say, but be sure of that before locking yourself into an agreement.
If both parties have actively participated in discussions, you should be able to make a decision at this stage by simply comparing all the information collected. If none of the companies and offers seem suitable to you, don’t feel obligated to choose one. You can always go back to step one and search again. Choosing the right contractor is a very important process that will determine the fate of your project.
We sincerely hope that this article will prove helpful for you. If you have any comments, please let us know on our Facebook fanpage :)