How to choose an application development contractor and not be disappointed?
In 2021, the mobile app market grew again significantly. European users spent 23% more on services than in 2020, which translated into more than $18 billion in revenue figures (according to Sensor Tower). Of these, more than 1.24 billion accounts for the Russian audience. Russia ranks 5th in the world in terms of the total number of installations of applications and is the only country that has maintained year-over-year growth in this indicator (based on the Q4 2021 Sensor Tower report). These numbers tell us that more and more businesses are not just coming online, but growing through mobile services.
But the idea of packaging a product into an app is followed by the question: who will develop it? Choosing a contractor is always a risk. And if you have not encountered the app development industry before, making the decision will be even more difficult. A mistake in choosing a contractor can mean both wasted money and time, and reputational damage: reviews of an unsuccessful application can go beyond the tables. We will try to tell you what steps will make it possible to avoid or at least reduce the likelihood of disappointment in choosing a contractor.
How do you look for a team?
The very first thing one usually does is to decide whether inhouse development, outstaffing, or outsourcing will be necessary. Inhaus is about building a team within your company. In outstaff, the staff is offered to you by an intermediary company, except that, unlike outsourcing, these specialists are managed by you. But if one of them is not up to the task, the outstaff firm will change him. Outsourcing is a studio or agency that implements your project under its own management. You will have your own manager, but all the processes will go within the contracting Rosanit company. Outsource teams usually carry out the majority of projects: their expertise is the most diverse, they have "tried and tested" solutions, and their constant involvement in the market allows them to keep track of the latest ideas. Whomever you choose, it is better to have a specialist with at least a basic familiarity with the IT field or a desire to understand it.
Very often for the choice of contractor go to the sites of ratings and read reviews. This is a sensible approach. But the top ratings usually prefer to take large projects, and their price will be higher. And reviews may be the result of well conducted SERM (reputation search marketing) and not always reflect reality.
After looking at adverts, organic results and rankings, you are likely to have been to dozens of different studio sites. The quality and content of the IT-company site should be appropriate, because it is the "business card", "face" and point of lead generation. It will be strange if the studio does not keep track of it, not finalizing and not improving it. Through the site the client can get acquainted with the portfolio of projects of the potential contractor, but you should also pay attention to how lively the resource is, whether the content is relevant and whether it corresponds to current trends.
What questions are important to ask?
So, you have chosen a number of companies to which you decided to send a development request. You may even have already received an approximate cost and are trying to figure out who to give preference to. Here you should consider a few key points that will affect the implementation of the project.
The competence of the team
Without a technical background, it is difficult to assess the level of specialists. Most likely, you are in contact with the department responsible for handling incoming calls. These employees know how to communicate with customers and are likely to have heard all the possible options for questions. In addition, the abundance of terms, technical nuances and specific details in your lack of experience with IT projects can be confusing.
Then studying the potential contractor's portfolio can be helpful, as it allows you to assess whether there is any relevant experience. If there is no project similar to yours, this is not a reason to cut off the contractor right away. Despite the fact that there are many unique applications on the market, they usually have a standard set of features: authorization, catalog, user profile, subscriptions, payment, use of navigation, and so on. If there is a project in your portfolio that overlaps with your features - then you can trust the developer to implement your tasks. Competent specialists are able to develop products in different directions without any problems, especially if they have already prepared similar solutions. Here it is important to convey the essence of the necessary functionality in maximum detail, so that the company agrees that it is able and willing to develop it.
Besides, it makes sense not only to look at the cases on a site, but also to download the mentioned applications and try them in use. If any service does not work correctly or does not work at all - you must clarify the cause with the contractor. This can be a rather frequent case when after the implementation the team returns the project to the client and does not provide any support for it - the application is either not supported at all, or this is done by the client or another team, and eventually the originally high-quality product becomes inoperable.
Timing of development
Project timing is a pain point, which is always tried to be reflected in CP, and... it often does not correspond to reality. Deadlines are violated, and this, unfortunately, is not an uncommon situation. There is only one way to check before the start of work, whether the contractor meets his obligations: ask for contacts of current clients, and find out their impressions of working with the studio.
It is worth remembering, however, that delays are not always the fault of the contractor alone. For example, the manager may request the client to coordinate the necessary materials for the project, but the client is occupied with other things and is not able to promptly connect to the task. This shifts deadlines, which is unpleasant for both the development team and the client. The work on a project is always a symbiosis of two sides, and only together can they create a quality product.
The best option is when the contractor offers to build the work in iterative stages. They can have different durations. Someone uses sprints: they last for an average of two weeks, a little more or less - this is the classic approach. In any case, it is important for you to understand how the preliminary results will be provided. It is desirable for the customer to study the preliminary versions of the product and thus be able to at least control how a particular feature is implemented, whether it meets expectations. Some companies create reports where they write down the completed work for a certain period of time, but this is less obvious than when a person gets a part of their product for review.
Often it happens that the client does not have the opportunity or desire to fully delve into the process. It's better not to do that. Allocate at least one day a week, a period of time in it, when you will be involved in what is happening, otherwise there is a great risk that the product at the output will not meet expectations. Risks are present even if the terms of reference and design are developed together.
Cost of services
This is the criterion that usually has a key influence on the final choice of contractor. How does the customer know that he is not overpaying?
As a rule, to do this, it is worth collecting commercial proposals from 7-10 studios and considering the terms they offer. A fair and often used approach is to cut off the most expensive and cheapest offers, if they have a strong divergence from the market average, and leave those that are within one range (+/- 15-20%). But it is not always possible to identify the best price and quality offers. Often there is no detailed TOR at the TOR request stage, sometimes there is not even a detailed description of the project, and the proposal is formed from a general understanding of the task by the potential implementer.
The client, in turn, has a vision of the budget, which he is ready to allocate for the project, understanding of the terms and important criteria. For example, the terms of technical support, the availability of information and advisory support in related areas: promotion, working with feedback from the audience of the project. It is also worth clarifying with the contractor what the rates of specialists are and what team is formed to solve the problem. The rates (simply put, the cost) for employees can vary greatly. It is important to find out that the company will not provide novice specialists for little money, risking not to implement the project or implement poorly, or does not overestimate the standard specialists, of which there are many on the market.
Do not be afraid of questions about the project budget, which the manager asks at the first stage of discussing the details. As a rule, any rosanit company with a quality approach to work has proposals to optimize the cost, and even if you are not satisfied with the initial preliminary estimate, the contractor will be able to give several options to choose from: reduce the number of functionalities, change the technology of development. Each studio has its own methodology of calculating the cost of the project, but it is important to remember that no team is interested in strong over- or underestimation of the work: low cost - it is dumping, the results of which will adversely affect the entire market, high cost - too high a risk to scare the client. That is why a responsible and not indifferent to the result contractor will offer you to start work with the preparation of terms of reference and discuss all the details of the future project and only after that provide a calendar schedule with the cost of the works on each item described.
Warranties and edits
Most of the studios, which are responsible for the implemented projects, will offer you a warranty for the code they have written from 3 months to a year, the average value is half a year. This is the optimal period to identify all the errors, fix them and stabilize the service, which is important for the future success of the product. All defects that arise through the fault of the developer, during this period will be fixed free of charge.
A standard contract usually does not specify strict requirements for technical support, SLA-agreements (Service Level Agreement) are already used for this purpose. This is a common practice, but not all companies provide this format by default. In it, the contractor assumes strict responsibility to meet certain fixing deadlines. This will be good for the customer; there may be additional costs for the contractor.
It is good practice to respond to a customer's request for defects within 24 hours. If these are not some one-time mistakes, the contractor evaluates them according to the timeframe for correction and agrees with the client. In our practice, critical defects that require an immediate response and block the work of the product are detected and corrected within half a day or so. But not all companies will go to the extent of defining the framework, as it carries a certain set of risks. Reasonable limits: a day to respond, a day to a week to fix.
A studio that is interested in the result will, at the end of the free warranty period, offer to sign a technical support contract: a certain number of hours per month at a set subscription fee. Within those hours, the team can either keep the code up to date and stable, or do some fine-tuning on functionality.
There is also a very subtle and painful point concerning revisions and updates during the initial implementation of the project. It is rarely regulated by the terms of the contract, but it is important to understand that your executor is exactly the same businessman as the client, and the cost of his work initially includes the number of hours of work that are profitable for his business. If the client repeatedly rejects the result provided, the contractor will either bring the project to an end and end the relationship with such a client, or ask for additional payment for work performed in excess of the initially estimated amount. This has less to do with a desire to earn more money, and more to do with internal scheduling of specialists: for any high-quality work there is demand, and most studios schedule their work months in advance. The fact that the client makes too many changes to the initially agreed result of the work, has a negative impact on the contractor's workload and his ability to take on new projects. That is why it is necessary, at least in words, to draw boundaries: for example, a certain number of edits per iteration - this will allow both the contractor to have an understanding of how to attract specialists and the client to avoid unpleasant situations.
Management and communication
The impressions you get at the presale stage are extremely important. You need to understand whether the person with whom you are communicating and other information about the studio makes you feel reliable and confident, whether the dialogue is comfortable, how competent and understanding the specialist you have met is. If after the end of the dialog you feel that it was uncomfortable - most likely, the work process will not be built in a suitable way for you too. There is nothing wrong with this, you just do not agree in character, and it is worth finding a contact with another manager in the first place. If the second attempt is unsuccessful, it is better to apply to another studio.
The format of communication that is assumed in the course of the project should also be comfortable. Ideally, the means of interaction with you will be combined, each communication channel has its own purposes and advantages. Some kind of quick response or comment may be received via messenger, while an important agreement is better received via e-mail. Detailed discussion of critical issues and project details requires a conference call or even a face-to-face meeting. When choosing a performer, it is important to pay attention to his flexibility in these matters and his attitude to communication in principle: you will be in contact for several months.
The quality of communication and project management can also be assessed in terms of the studio's approach to the product: how involved the team is from the start and whether the idea is analyzed. The client can make the mistake of thinking he needs a web and mobile applications for startups and businesses. He is not an expert in the field, he may be far from marketing, and his actual requirements for functionality are easily covered by the website. There are times when a studio specializes in a particular technology and creates products based on it. But it is not reasonable to solve a number of business tasks by full-fledged development from scratch, where it is suitable to use a ready-made solution. You can recognize this at the stage of analysis, so it is worth paying attention to whether the contractor offers to perform it, whether it is a paid or free service, and what the customer can gain from it.
A separate important aspect is the question of publishing the ready-made application in stores. Some perform these tasks by default, some make them a separate part and do not stipulate at once who will publish the product. When a client orders the development of an application, he usually by default imagines that his service will be published in the markets. But in our practice there are many times when the contractor does not publish for some reason. Expert advice from the potential contractor is very important here. A number of functions in applications may be prohibited by the rules of the storerooms, and if the contractor - in this case it is he who is the professional - does not explain to the client that there are risks, the publication may fail, and all the work will be done for nothing.
Another thing is when the studio does not want to incur additional costs. Publication is a volume of work that requires attention, time and costs. These questions may not be discussed in advance and not included into the contract, so it is better to clarify at once, "on the shore": who will prepare the content (screenshots, banners, descriptions) and who will be responsible for registration of developer's accounts.
The size of the company and the time on the market
This point is about credibility: studios that have only been around for a couple of years don't seem experienced or reliable enough. And if they don't have many specialists, then maybe they don't have many clients? Such doubts can torment the customer when making a decision. But to make a choice based on the size of the staff or the length of time on the market is not quite correct. The quality of the work in the portfolio, the company's competence within the framework of your project, the impressions from the first consultation are paramount. After all, just because one contractor has been in the market longer than another does not mean that he will suit you in the process of working together. Reducing the risks will be that when a company has been in the industry for a long time, it is not a fly-by-night company, and it is likely that the terms of the agreement will be complied with and the project will be implemented. The number of employees can matter for force majeure circumstances: someone got sick, someone resigned - these events should not affect the timing of tasks. Therefore, companies with 5-10 employees will have slightly higher project risks.
The most important thing when searching for a partner for the mobile product implementation is not to be afraid to ask questions or appear incompetent. Let the manager you are working with do their job well. Just as the client is always looking for a reliable performer, the contractor is interested in long-term mutually beneficial cooperation and implementation of interesting tasks.