Drive-by developer or software partner?
You can’t win them all, but after we were pipped to a recent contract, I ended up in a fascinating conversation. One of the investors behind the project had been particularly impressed with the Red River approach, and we got talking about the choices companies make when outsourcing development, and the way they can come back to haunt you.
This particular investor has plenty of experience working with growing firms who need help from external software partners, and he’s watched as some of his investments gain painful first-hand experience of the potential pitfalls. One of the first things he learned is that any developer can say, “we can build this thing for you” – that’s pretty much a hygiene factor if you’re a software company. Getting a successful outcome means ensuring ‘this thing’ is properly defined in the first place, and that the end result is going to be fit for purpose when it arrives.
In this area, he’s discovered that you need a software partner who’s going to do more than just take your specification, build it, then chuck the result over the wall on the way to their new project. He’s looking for developers who’ll bring their expertise to bear: understanding the context, challenging the brief, and asking questions about technology, functionality or usability.
He also knows the importance of software partners who’ll invest in the relationship, care about the results and stick around to offer support in the future. Businesses don’t remain static, especially when they’ve just secured funding, so any software system needs a roadmap that evolves and develops with the business plan, and a development team that will be available to iterate the product.
Yet for us both, it’s a surprise that more people don’t get this. Companies who’ve ruled out off-the-shelf solutions because they don’t satisfy complex needs then outsource the custom development as though it was a one-off deal. They go with a cheap quote, get something that roughly fits the bill, and then find that they’re stuck on V1 while the business’ needs move on. Getting another developer in to move things onward invariably works out more expensive than finding the right partner in the first place.
So, we didn’t win this one. And sadly, we know from experience there’s a fair chance we’ll be that second developer. Honestly, we’d rather help you get it right first time.