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If you’ve decided your business needs custom software, you’ve already come a long way in the decision-making process. The next step is to find the software development company to build it and the software development values that fit with yours.

All going well, you’re likely to be working closely with this company for at least the next five years. So how do you make sure that you choose the right people to partner with?

We could discuss at-length the technical side of this decision, and indeed it is often where business owners are focussed as they define requirements for their software development commissioning process. It can be a cause for concern and confusion when a non-technical person is looking for a software development company and doesn’t know how to tell whether each company has the technical capacity to see them safely to the other side of their project.

In the midst of a lot of technical language and jargon, people can forget that software development is mainly about strong values and good communication.

Simple due diligence

There is more detail on due diligence and asking the right questions in our next article on software risk management. Our belief is that, if you choose the right people and they can speak to you in a language that makes sense, you are in the clear. On the technical front, just make sure you follow your gut reactions and do some good due diligence on each software development company you are speaking with. Check their history of project success, ask for statistics from them, speak directly with their current clients. Find out how many of their clients stay with them for technical support and further project work.

A decent software development company will have clients working with them long-term who have trusted them with further work because of their success in the initial project work.

Who will you be spending time with?

Beyond that, it’s worth remembering that the technical work of software development is probably the easiest part of running a software development project. What is much more rare and complex is creating a culture of positive and capable people who know how to communicate and to manage time. If you are choosing to integrate a custom piece of software into your business then your software is coming to you as a service. The first phase of developing the initial product is likely to take 6-12 months, so you will be working closely with the people in your software development company for quite some time.

Make sure that during the commissioning and software consultancy processes you are spending time with the people who are going to be managing your project and your account. You don’t need to meet all of them, of course, but certainly those who you will be having regular meetings with. You can find out more here about the sorts of roles you need to be aware of when meeting software development companies. On the whole, if you have good chemistry with the people who are leading the business, this is a good sign. Their approach and character have probably created the foundations of the company culture and attracted a similar calibre of people further down in the organisation.

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Feeling inspired?

No matter how qualified they are or what level of technical expertise they wave at you, it is more important than anything that you like them and their team. That you feel compelled to tell them everything about your business. That you leave meetings with them feeling inspired and confident. Software development is a creative process and one that works when it comes out of solid, positive relationships.

It is surprising how often we can overlook our own hunches about people or how we feel when we do business with them. In these cases, things tend to work out fine at the start because they tick all the boxes, but when things get more advanced then a lack of basic chemistry and shared values can lead to major communication breakdowns.

The values of the people working with you on your software development will be important. What is their attitude to quality and integrity? A good question to ask a leader of a software development company would be: “Why are you doing this?” Listen out for what their reason is, and if it resonates with you, then you have found the right firm.

Using creative conflict

A great creative process is also about creative conflict. No successful project has ever escaped the ups and downs of human interaction and emotion. So ask the question, “how do you deal with conflict?”. There is no right or wrong answer, but what you are looking for is a balanced and genuine answer that you feel will work for you. Prick your ears for canned responses like “it is all about the customer” or “ we really run things so smoothly that it never arises”. While we are highly customer-focused, it is also important that we look after ourselves as a company and keep good professional boundaries. While we navigate our projects with fluency and skill, we’d be lying if we said that there were never difficult decisions to make or mistakes along the way.

We are always looking for transparency, honesty, and authenticity when we take on suppliers. Perhaps your core values are different, but the key is to be aware of them and to find out whether your potential software development company has the self-awareness to understand and communicate what is important to them.

Got step 1 down? In our next article on software risk management in the commissioning process, we get into some more details of the capabilities to look out for and some key questions to ask to make sure you are onto a good thing.

Download your free guide to preparing a brief for software development