Choosing the Right Software Development Partner

Will Shepler • Jun 04, 2019

Hiring consultants or contractors is a challenging process, and choosing the right partner for your needs is critical. In this article I’ll explore some key areas of partner selection, and how to determine the fit of a consultancy with your business.

Consultants or Contractors?

This is the very first decision you need to make to select the right partner. Many people use the words interchangeably, but these are two completely different kinds of resources. Choosing consultants when you need contractors can mean spending more money than you need to, and choosing contractors when you need consultants may leave you feeling like your money was not well spent.

So what’s the difference:

Contractor:

  • Skilled in production
  • Focused on task completion
  • Expects an environment where work is directed by managers
  • Does not need to understand your business

Consultant:

  • Works to understand your business
  • Treats your business like their own (Has the best interest of your business forefront in all recommendations and actions)
  • Focused on solving problems
  • Able to step back and see the big picture
  • Skilled in facilitating
  • Skilled in production
  • Committed to finding the right solution

There are a lot of differences between these two roles, and this acts more like a spectrum with most individuals falling into some balance between these two types.

Culture Fit

Finding the right cultural fit for your team is critical to the success of any hiring process, whether it’s the right FTE, contractor, or consultant. There are several important points to consider when weighing the options to add an outsourced team or supplement your own (apart from the price tag). Having the technical ability to do the work shouldn’t be the only consideration when making a hiring decision.

Consider these “non-production” factors when selecting a partner:

For Remote Resources

  • What is the onsite expectation (if any)?
  • What communication tools do you use to facilitate remote work?
  • If resources are in different time zones, what availability is needed during your business hours?

For Onsite Resources

  • What is the dress code in the office?
  • Is participation in corporate events expected?
  • Where will they sit?

Talented individuals and groups exist in a wide variety of ecosystems, and while these questions may seem somewhat basic, finding the right cultural fit with your partner will build a much stronger, more sustainable relationship for the long term while keeping both sides of the partnership positively engaged throughout the project.

Business Needs

A surprising number of partnerships end badly because of a mismatch between offerings and needs. You may have a referral from someone who thinks XYZ Agency “does great work”, but being an awesome consultancy or contractor doesn’t automatically make them the right fit for your business needs. Going into initial meetings with an open mind is essential on both sides of the equation. Look at the offerings from the potential partner and ask yourself the following questions:

What does success look like?

Have in mind what a successful outcome of your project looks like. Your partner will help flesh this out in the upcoming meetings, but the more clear picture you have going into the initial meetings, the more likely you are to find the right fit.

Can they do the work I need done?

This is a matter of competency. Does the partner have the necessary technical/delivery skills required to help reach your business goals?

Do their offerings align with and support my goals?

Even if the partner is incredibly qualified to deliver what you’re looking for, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have an offering to support you. Some partners have a process that they are invested in, and may not be willing to sell a subset of services to you. In most cases this is not due to a lack of flexibility by the partner, but a commitment to a process of proven success and a desire to deliver success on every project.

Wrapping Up

There are a lot of factors involved in selecting the right partner for your organization. Contractors or consultants? Individuals or teams? Project work or staff aug? And of course, cost. Always think beyond the needs of the moment, taking the time to understand the values and capabilities of your partner will make sure your choice sets you up for long term success. Make sure you understand the value your partner will be delivering, and how that fits with your organization and business goals.