Last week doing some research on mobile app trends, I noticed a number of questions on various forums across the internet from people planning their mobile app projects. The most common question was “How do I choose a developer for my mobile app project?” This question has been asked in various ways but the objective was the same. Everyone wants to know how to pick the right mobile application development company for their mobile application development project.
We are familiar with this question as every client of ours has started out with this question. There are thousands of app development companies worldwide, hence choosing one of them seems to be a big and confusing task. It’s not as if you are buying a pair of shoes – you can try on a shoe before you buy it, and a mistake is not that expensive. You don’t really get to try the mobile app development company before you start your project, and they do charge a lot more than a pair of shoes!
I’m going to attempt to answer this question, based on what our clients tell us, and also based on our experience shopping for similar services. Let’s say, you have a mobile app project in mind – reasonably fleshed out – and not a lot of prior experience in technical development.
To begin with, it is important to have clear goals in mind. What exactly is a ‘good’ app development firm and how is it different from a ‘bad’ one. In other words, what characteristics are we looking for exactly?
To my mind, the top differentiators would be:
- Buy-in to the project – Does the firm really believe in your project, understand its potential to make a difference and do they feel like they have a stake in making it work? Not every aspect of your requirements are documented or documentable, and firms who believe in the project will be the ones who will work to bridge that gap.
- The leadership team – A team is as good as its leadership. Speak to the principals in the firm as well as the project manager you would be working with. Their interest and involvement in the project, as well as how hands on they are, make a difference to the eventual outcome. Think of it like the difference between a good waiter at a restaurant, and the clerk at a McDonalds. Where are you more likely to get a more customised meal?
- Quality of resources – In programming, as in a life, experience and diligence make a lot of difference. Rookie programmers can make mistakes that become more and more difficult to handle as the project progresses. An experienced programmer will write very usable and flexible code that will adapt to your changing requirements easily.
- Value-Add – While you are hiring a firm mainly for app development, there are a number of areas where you may need help such as marketing, design, partnerships, connects and contacts, sometimes just other interested parties you can bounce ideas off. A firm that will provide some or all of these is worth a lot of additional money.
So, how do you go about identifying these characteristics, and hence choosing your partner of choice? I recommend the following ways:
- Get them to show you their vision for your product.
Once you layout the key idea of your product, ask your vendors what they could make of it. Let them get back to you with key concept designs, wireframes, or at least a set of features or “user stories”. Someone, usually an analyst will need to put in the effort to come up with these – they will need to spend a good amount of time understanding your requirement, framing it into specific features, interacting with you to clarify doubts and so on. This interaction will give you a very good sense of understanding on how good the team is, and whether they take a genuine interest in your project. It will also outline the full scope of the project so there are fewer misunderstandings about what’s included and what isn’t. I recommend you to do this even if you are coming into the project with very detailed requirements, designs, and wireframes. An experienced team is likely to have ideas which will improve yours.
- Speak to former clients
Ask them to speak to the former clients of the firm for a referral. Do this early in the process. Both the alacrity with which they respond, and the enthusiasm with which the former clients are ready to speak to you, tell volumes about your potential partners. Do give allowance for newer firms, which may not have a lot of past clients to point to.
- Ask to see examples of their work
A portfolio of past projects gives you a lot of insight into the quality of work, the firm is capable of. Download some of their apps and try them out for yourself. Focus on apps which are similar in nature to what you are looking at, but also look at others to get a sense of the quality of UX and design and the smoothness of interfaces.
- Start with a Mini-Project
In a full size project, a lot of time has to be spent initially in planning and documentation, so the first few weeks will not give you a full sense of how the project is going, and yet you will have commited significant funds. Instead, commit to and start with a mini-project, something that is key to your eventual goal, but small enough for an output to be seen in a couple of weeks. Ask the sales team or the analyst to help you carve out such a mini-project from the full scope. As your confidence in the team increases, you can expand the project scope.
These are fairly straightforward principles to use when searching for the ideal partner for your project, and will work most of the time. Do shop around for a good deal, but remember not to make it only about price – people who do good quality work expect to be well rewarded, and cost of choosing a poor or uninterested vendor is probably far greater than the difference in costs.