In my experience working with and talking to non technical founders I’ve come across a common pain point, how can you make sure your product is aligned with your vision if you’re not the one developing it? But just because it’s somewhat out of your hands doesn’t mean it’s not made according to your vision and keeping your users in mind.
If you’ve thought about outsourcing development but are on the fence about it, I’ve made a list of some things to keep in mind in order to find the right technical partner for your business.
What to keep in mind when searching for a technical partner
Have a clear understanding of your product
It’s important that you're clear on what you want your product to look like and what you want it to do. Once done so, you’ll have an easier time communicating your requirements to your development partners. Even if you don’t have a technical background, having a clear understanding of your product will make it easier for your tech partner to lay out tasks and together you can prioritize features.
It is key that they work with a current and agile working methodology. Personally, I’m a fan of Scrum. Scrum is a framework of rules, roles, and events used to implement Agile projects. It is an iterative approach that consists of sprints that typically only last one to four weeks (in my working experience it’s two weeks). This approach ensures that your team delivers a version of the product regularly. Some common terms to know in scrum are:
- Sprint: A sprint is a set time frame for completing each set of tasks from the backlog. Every sprint should be the same length.
- Backlog: This is a list of tasks and requirements included in the final product. The responsibility of creating the backlog falls under the product owner
- Stand-up: The team is expected to meet every day to discuss progress and what they’ll be working on that day. These are typically referred to as a Daily Scrum or Daily Stand-Up.
- Sprint Planning: A meeting between the product owner and dev team or project manager in which they plan the tasks in the upcoming sprint.
- Sprint Retro: Every sprint should end with a review meeting, called a retrospective. Here, the team reviews their progress and discusses how they can improve in the next sprint.
Establish clear product ownership
Establish a product owner, an internal leader who is responsible for the product being developed by the outsourced development team. This person’s formal title is most likely to be product owner in larger companies or it can be a CTO, CIO, or co-founder in smaller organizations. What’s important is that they have the time and insight to serve as a bridge between your business and the development team. It must be someone who is available to attend stand-ups, sprint reviews, retros, and more.
Make sure the agency has a good reputation
This is something that’s sometimes hard for non-technical founders to vet when they are meeting with outsourcing agencies. It’s not just about what they tell you, it’s about what they can prove. Make sure you analyze their case studies and that they have experience in what you’re looking for, whether that be a certain technology (Swift, Kotlin, React, etc) or a certain industry (developing financial apps isn’t the same as creating healthcare software). An extremely reliable site is Clutch. It is a B2B ratings and reviews site that vets software development agencies. For their reviews, they personally contact and interview the company’s client, so not just anyone can leave a review. Keep in mind that just because a company doesn’t have many reviews doesn’t mean they don’t have experience. The review process is a hassle so most clients won’t leave one, try to opt for a company that has more than 5 reviews.
Key benefits to outsourcing
When you rely only on your internal team, you limit yourself to who you have in-house. Recruiting people takes a lot of time. When you outsource software development you have the advantage that agencies usually have various roles at their disposal at any given time including designers, testers, developers, project managers, etc.
You also have the flexibility that you can hire them for specific projects. If you hire a FT employee for a temporary project, it’s not cost-effective to keep paying them once the project is closed. With agencies, you have the flexibility to hire them for specific projects or timelines. Keep in mind that some may have a minimum time commitment.
While it may not seem like it, hiring an outsourcing agency may be cheaper than building an in-house software development team. You don’t have to spend time and effort on recruiting and hiring and you can attract top talent this way. Software development companies usually bill monthly based on their hourly rate. It may seem like because they are cheaper you might have to sacrifice on quality but that isn’t true for all of them. They are usually cheaper because they are located in different countries where the cost of living is much lower. If you stick to places close to your time zone, collaborating with them is much easier.
Faster development times
As with the reduction of costs, you also save time recruiting, hiring, and onboarding employees and can roll out your product much faster. Keep in mind that sometimes faster development times mean adding more developers. Make sure everyone is on the same page about how many resources and how many hours per week will be required for the project.
Focus on business/gain knowledge
When you outsource software development you delegate that task to another team and it allows you to focus on the day-to-day of your business. This can be especially helpful if you don’t have technical skills. In my experience, many times founders are searching for a technical co-founder and I’ve found that since they’re so in demand they’re becoming scarce. If you can’t find a technical co-founder your best bet may be hiring a software development agency whose expertise you can rely on. Don’t forget to vet them and make sure they have experience in your preferred tech stack just as much as in your industry.
Major challenges and how to overcome them
Communication issues are the main challenge you might have to overcome, after all, you’re taking people from another company and integrating them into your team. It’s to be expected for there to be minor challenges at first while you both find your footing.
This is one of the biggest fears when it comes to working with an agency: they don’t deliver on what was promised. Remember that timelines are not set in stone and it’s impossible to predict how long development will take. Opt for an agency that is upfront and can give you a close estimate based on their experience.
This goes hand in hand with project delays. Sometimes the project will take longer than estimated hence the cost will go up. This is pretty standard and the best agencies I know charge per hour per resource and not on a fixed price basis. The more information you can provide them about your needs and ideas, the more accurate the estimate is likely to be.
Project management issues
Your software development partner is the one responsible for proper project management. Issues in this area usually come up when there isn’t clear communication, when there are mismatched expectations, or just ill-defined processes. A great project management process should be able to help the team manage the short-term priorities and the long-term ideas for the product. Plans should be clear for the work that needs to happen in the upcoming sprints and how to get that work done.
All in all, if you’re not a technical founder, finding the right tech partner is essential for companies whose core product is digital (mobile or web applications). If you take into account some of these tips the risks that go with outsourcing development can definitely be minimized. Finding the right tech partner for your business is important.
If you’ve been on the fence about it hopefully this calms some of the fears you might have and helps you take the leap!