16 Sep 2019 - Ian Lebbern

10 Questions to Ask Your Development Partner


When you’re ready to engage a development partner to help take your business to the next level, take some time to make sure you find the right partner for your needs.

Choosing the best development partner for your business has far-reaching ramifications. The relationship often lasts years and the decisions made affect the security and maintainability of your applications.

Here are 10 questions you should ask your prospective development partners before choosing the best fit for you.


Do You Use Offshore Developers?

Some development partners have a “face” in the United States but do all of their development using offshore developers. The idea is that developers in other countries can be paid less to do the same work and the cost savings are passed on to you as the client. Another common claim is that there is no drop-off in quality. However, the reality can sometimes be quite different.

The cost savings from shipping your development work overseas are often never seen in the end, especially by the end client. Buyer beware: if your development partner uses offshore teams, how do they manage the quality of the work product? What requirements will get mangled along the way between timezone differences, language and cultural barriers and simply whisper-down-the lane. It's important that you the client are in lock-step with your development partner. That includes the people actually doing the work not just the front office.

Do You Build For SEO? If So, How?

Selling an awesome product or service can’t happen unless people can find it. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of building your website in a way that will help it rank highly for certain search terms. Development partners that ignore SEO could build an amazing site that no one will find.

But real expertise is required to do it right.

Making sure your website/app/landing pages rank for the keywords you want them to is more than just installing an SEO plugin in the CMS. From content and copy structure, all the way through to technical implementation considerations like H1/H2 tags, page speed, mobile usability, and Sitemap structure, every milestone in the project could be a missed opportunity to help (or at least not hinder) SEO.

What’s Your Experience Building for ADA Compliance? Can You Show Me a Site You Built That Met ADA Requirements?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessible design were released in 2010. The standards state that all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities. Make sure your development partner understands the requirements and the nuances of applying them to your website and apps.

ADA compliance is a continuum, from doing the basics, all the way to approaching AAA compliance (although true AAA Compliance is very unlikely). Where your website or app falls on that continuum is a business decision based on budget, risk tolerance, and the audience using the product. That said, your development partner should work with you to come to a requirement and then seamlessly integrate ADA compliance into the site. Keep in mind, implementing ADA compliance is a lot cheaper to do while you are building than trying to shoehorn it in afterward. Also, keep in mind considerations need to be made for content and design, not just coding.

How Have You Worked With Marketing Teams To Measure Performance?

Beware of development partners that drop a website on your shoulders without a clear plan on how to measure success. A website that doesn’t help you achieve your business goals is a waste of money.

Ask your development partner how they will tell if your new site, app, or experience is a success and how they will help you measure success. You should have business goals outlined for them. But don’t forget to hold your development partner accountable for the success of your website.


What Tools or Benchmarks Do You Use To Ensure The Performance of a Website?

A slow and buggy website helps no one. Site speed has a direct impact on search engine results. Slowness, broken links, dead ends, and other bugs can be detrimental to the bottom line, especially in e-commerce applications.

Make sure your development partner has tools ready to monitor application performance and user experience. Tools like Google Analytics, Tealeaf, and New Relic can be used to make sure your users are getting the experience they deserve.


What's your SSDLC?

Good security is table stakes for having a website today. Your development partner needs to have a documented secure software development lifecycle (SSDLC) so you know the code they write is secure.

Check back for our guidelines on what a secure SDLC should look like to make sure your development partner takes security seriously. You can’t claim to have high-quality code if it’s not secure.

At the least, you need to have:

  1. Developers trained on secure coding practices
  2. Automated security testing and scanning as part of the build pipeline
  3. A patch management process
  4. A vulnerability management process

The lack of a secure SDLC process is a huge red flag for a development partner. It shows a lack of concern for keeping up with modern development practices and keeping your users safe.


Guide to Building & Maintaining a Website


Can You Help Our Organization Properly Manage Changes Down the Road Through Governance and Change Management?

Change management comes in two flavors. Many agile development methodologies encourage reaction to changes happening during the project. It’s totally acceptable to expect minor changes to occur as the project is implemented. Changes of this kind are inevitable.

Large changes to the scope of a project are a different story. You as the client have a responsibility to let your development partner know about large changes to scope or business goals that could affect the project. These changes could require a renegotiation of the contract.

On the other hand, your development partner should be prepared to help you manage the changes that the project will have on your company. Launching a new site or application could mean new business processes and workflow your employees need to learn. Your development partner should clearly communicate any changes to workflows you’ll have to manage and communicate with your employees.

To properly handle change management, you’ll clear processes for the following:

  • Minor changes due to feedback from implementation teams or users
  • Major changes to the scope of the project that could affect timeline and cost
  • Changes made to business processes and workflows that have to be clearly communicated with your employees.

Engine Room can help you implement and streamline IT governance processes. Use our experience to make governance easy for you.

Don’t wait to create these processes. If you have to stop in the middle of the project to create these processes, you’ll be late in delivering it.


How Do Your Development and UX Teams Collaborate?

Dev and creative teams not communicating effectively is seen all too often. The design team is given some requirements and then hands a visual design to the developers to create. The designers then move on to the next project.

The problem with this hand-off model is that feedback doesn’t get back to the designers. Are there problems implementing the design? Are there time constraints that tempt developers and product managers to drop design features?

When designers are not kept in the loop, considerations like ADA compliance and usability tend to go out the window. You can’t expect a developer or product manager to know as much about these things as the designer.

Make sure your development partner has strong communication between development and UX teams. Ask them what the process is to make sure the original design is followed as closely as possible. Ask who approves changes to design elements.

At Engine Room, our developers work hand-in-hand with creative teams. They meet with UX teams to review wireframes and provide feedback. Then designers and developers get together to review the front-end design for technical feasibility and front-end implementation of the design. We make sure the design works for all parties involved, not just for one siloed team.

If you don’t have an agreement between teams, you risk a development team creating something quite different than the design by the time a long project is completed. And no one will have a good reason why.


How Do You Balance the Need for Proper Requirements and Documentation With the Need to Be Agile and Move Forward?

Working with a development partner requires documentation. Contracts and statements of work are created. The scope of a project is decided before the project starts. This is necessary because a business transaction is taking place. It must be known what is being built and when you know that it’s done.

Does all of this documentation conflict with the need to be agile and make progress or changes as the project is implemented? It all depends on how your development partner draws the line between agility and documentation.

Official documentation of the scope of a project and the business goals it will accomplish are necessary. You need to know what success will look like and how much it will cost.

However, you don’t need huge amounts of documentation within the implementation of the project. If you maintain focus on achieving a business outcome, your development partner can have the flexibility necessary to react to feedback. Focus on finding the best way to achieve an outcome instead of holding strictly to a list of requirements made before you actually knew anything.

When it’s time to gather business requirements for the system in question, some development partners will fall back to waterfall methods. They’ll ask for all requirements upfront and then enter a long development cycle to finish them.

Using outdated methods will lead to project overruns and increased cost.

Engine Room gathers requirements in a focused discovery effort. The discovery of requirements is an iterative and agile process finished with large client involvement. It feeds into an agile development cycle and works to keep the project moving while providing the needed flexibility.


How Do You Help Support and Ensure Success of the IT Function When Building Software?

Collaboration between development teams and IT teams is just as important as it is between dev and UX teams. IT teams typically are in charge of building servers and other infrastructure the software will run on. How well does your development partner prepare your IT teams to run the software their building?

Your IT teams should be included from the beginning stages of the project. They’ll often help create the build pipeline, especially if a DevOps model is followed on the project. Talented IT team members in sync with your development partner help the project to run smoothly while setting up a system that will last long after your partner has left.

Make sure your development partner is comfortable collaborating closely with your IT team. This close working relationship is essential to making sure that the application architecture and security match the goals of the organization while efficiently and effectively meeting the needs of the business.

A project will move forward with ease when your development partner cares enough to support your IT teams.


Don’t Forget To Ask

Find out how your prospective development partner runs their projects before you agree to work with them. Make sure you ask these 10 questions to help you decide who is the right fit for you.

Contact us and we’ll be glad to explain our answers to these questions in relation to your next project.


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