Finding a tech partner to develop a product can be a daunting task whether it’s the first time or the tenth.
Choose the right partner and your project could supersede your expectations.
Choose the wrong one and you could pour money down the drain.
With stakes that high it’s crucial to get it right. So what exactly should you be considering? Start here:
First things first, don’t waste your time recruiting a mixed bag of individual freelancers that may or may not get along with your product vision as a whole, let alone each other. That’s an extra risk you shouldn’t have to take just to find out. Go with existing, experienced teams and take the following into account:
Generalists or Specialists
The first question to ask is whether you want a team with a wide-ranging yet cursory skill base, or a team that’s more limited but has true expertise in one or two specific areas. There are pros and cons to each so weigh them against your perceived needs. The generalist style team will do a variety of tasks well and can handle projects that require developing a multifaceted product. For example, a handyman who knows about plumbing, electricity, and carpentry can complete many small jobs satisfactorily for constructing an office building. He’s a reliable ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ that you would comfortably hire for his versatility, but you wouldn’t hire him to install an elevator. That’s the job for a specialist, since the consequences of cutting corners in such an area can cause major problems and jeopardize the success of the final product.
When it comes to software development the ideal tech partner is a combination of both, and most specialists have to be generalists to some extent. This is called a T-shaped skill set where the “top line is the general skills held by that team and the vertical line is the area where they have very specific skills” - Who will dominate the future of work? Specialists or generalists?
When looking for a partner, try to find a team that is closest to specializing in your biggest core need (the one that can’t go wrong), while still holding strong generalist characteristics.
“In order to acquire the skills of a specialist, a great deal of general knowledge is required and accumulated along the way.” - Simple Programmer
Baseline Project Analysis
To begin prioritizing the general and specific skills required for a successful partnership and final product, it’s important to have a clear idea of the full scope and desired outcome of the project. Don’t rush into development until the business plan and project briefings are fully thought out and complete. A solid understanding of the market, business stakeholders, targets, goals, and competitors will make it much easier to identify which teams have the most experience developing on similar execution strategies. In addition, putting together a reviewable collection of the business plan, market analysis, competitor landscape, lean analysis (for startups) and go-to-market strategy, user/target persona, internal and external KPIs (for pre established companies) will help you determine which teams are properly prepared even if you’re not the most technical.
Competitive Edge Identification
Establishing and properly emphasizing a competitive edge can be the difference between success and failure. Take a close look at the project analysis materials and figure out exactly where the product needs to be different by the time it launches. What is the unique value proposition (UVP), and how can the product highlight that on its own? Does it need to be strong technologically? Does it need to stand out visually within an industry or is it a unique process that’s important to its success? What gives the final product an offering that the current market doesn’t address? What are the current trends in the industry vertical which are relevant to the project? Make real conclusions about these questions and apply those priorities to address the big three verticals that come next: Industry, Technology, and Process.
Vertical 1: Industry
Industry comes into consideration as an important factor when building something to introduce in an already competitive environment. This is the industry you are trying to disrupt and the products you hope your technical partner understands, such as Automotive, Education (EdTech), Finance (FinTech), Travel, or Insurance (InsurTech). Teams who already have industry-specific development experience are more likely to be familiar with concepts and common technologies to make informed decisions as strategic consultants instead of just developers. They’ll be aware of useful tools and predecessors, they’ll have an idea of the competitive landscape and the existing players in the market, and they’ll know what the long-term process involves. To become a new market player from scratch, an industry veteran team can save a lot of time, money, and heartache. Nevertheless, if you’re already an industry experienced creator yourself, consider choosing a team with a higher level of expertise in one of the next two verticals if the duplication of the knowledge base would provide little value.
Vertical 2: Technology
Development teams tend to specialize in certain areas of the technology spectrum out of a natural gravitation over time. If you identified any one technology or tech stack in particular as a competitive edge priority, then this vertical deserves serious attention! Technology encompasses a huge range of features and within each of those even more decisions need to be made in order to properly execute the project. The first decision is which new domain type are you making - mobile app, web platform, internal company software, database, cloud computing, data science, or IoT? The list is huge! But once you have this nailed down the hard part begins. Which is the best way to execute the development of the project? Which coding language do you need? Which framework? What sort of database? Do you need a cloud platform and if so, which? How much and what sort of testing is required? In the end, think back to the matter of generalists versus specialists. The more specific the technological needs, the more specialized your partner better be if you plan on succeeding.
Vertical 3: Process
Look back at the project analysis to narrow down the key focus for the given process. Do you want to create a proof of concept? Do you have that already and want to build something mainly to scale? Do you need to iterate on product-market fit? Do you need to build up your existing team so you can run faster? Process is the categorization of projects based on where they sit within the innovation lifecycle in order to line them up with teams that are the most suitable for the current stage and can develop the product with the next stage in mind. Teams with different workstyles may perform better at different stages of innovation. For example, projects focusing on ideation, brainstorming, wireframing, and prototyping often require a super adaptable, agile team that can produce and test MVPs in sprints. Teams further along in scaling and maintenance often have a structured style to prepare more organized builds and handle bureaucratic elements of the project. Find a tech partner with a history of developing for your particular stage.
What about cultural fit?
Once you’ve established the priorities, goals, and executions strategies for each vertical, the list of qualified partners should be remarkably short. At last, it comes down to making sure both parties are compatible in culture and workstyle for smooth collaboration whether in-house or remote. That said, many creators are unsure of what questions to ask when it comes to tech team culture. Here are a few big ones: What communication tools does the team use and are they different from yours? What is the team’s desired depth and frequency of feedback sharing? What is the company structure like and will it be a complement or a hardship? Is continuous learning encouraged? Does the team participate in group activities? Answers to these questions can reveal whether the software development house encourages employee engagement and growth and whether the structure of the company is hierarchical or flat. A flatter company structure is often a good indicator that those working on the project will take their own initiative and approach issues proactively throughout the project duration.
Get started or ask for help!
Choosing a partner for software development and digital projects is just that-- a choice. Still, that choice can have major implications when it comes to time, money, and success. Digital Knights helps innovators make these choices on a regular basis. Take the above considerations into account ahead of your next project, and get in touch with Digital Knights to work with approved teams.