4 Top Qualities of a Software Development Firm

When selecting a software development firm to work on your custom software project you want to select the best option available, right? They all seem the same from the surface, but they aren’t. It’s not difficult to discern those that will provide a much greater chance of software project success.
Here are some qualities and experience to look for. If you don’t find most if not all of these, then you might want to consider looking elsewhere for a top software development firm.
  1. Listen and understand without selling
    Any project, no matter the type, starts of with the potential vendor listening and understanding…not talking and selling. Does your prospective software development vendor listen and ask questions in the first meetings? Do they truly understand the situation you’re in?
  2. Can say No
    Can the software firm you’re talking with say “No” to a project because it’s not a best fit? Are they so desperate to get the project that they’re willing to do anything to get it, including massive discounts, ruining other client projects to focus on your project, willing to take on the project even though it’s completely out of their capabilities and focus? If it’s not a project they can and should do, they should be able to say, “No, this project isn’t for us. Thank you for talking with us! Maybe you should talk to this other company.”
  3. True focus of the project
    Do they ask you questions like, “What really drives your company?”, “What is the main goal of your company or department at the end of the month or year?”, “What do you really care about?” If they ask those types of questions there’s a good chance they have the right focus. You can tell them what features you want, and they’ll suggest how the project should go. But they should also be thinking about how the project will help you accomplish what matters, what you care about in the company. If the project isn’t helping with that focus, then is the project really worth doing?
  4. Disciplined approach to specifications
    What do the specifications look like for the project your software vendor is about to tackle with you? Or, what do the specs look like for past projects they’ve worked on?
If they say, “We don’t need specs.”, run for the hills. If their specs don’t have a low level of detail for what needs to be created, run for the hills. If they can’t show you a sample of a spec, run for the hills (they really should have at least one spec or part of a spec they can show you with appropriate redacted info for the other client’s confidentiality.
Keep in mind there are different types and styles of requirements specification…even Agile projects have spec docs…they’re simply in a different format (e.g., epics, stories, etc.).
More top qualities of top custom software development firms to come in the future.

How to start up more successful custom software projects

Have you heard the majority of software projects end in failure? It’s an oft quoted fact. One of several ways to prevent that is to start off on the right foot.

A key to starting off well is with a project launch mtg. Get the right people in the virtual or physical room at the same time, talk about why the project is being done and why it’s important, ask questions, and keep the length of the meeting appropriately short.

Right People

Once you have the SOW and the general roadmap of what you are going to build, have a project kickoff with the developers, testers, analysts and UI/UX folks. You may not have people filling all these roles, of course, but you probably have some of these on every project, even if it is one person wearing multiple hats. Sometimes not having the customer in the kickoff meeting is best. During the internal meeting you can discuss all ideas and ask questions openly. After the internal kickoff meeting a couple key staffers from the team can then conduct a launch or kickoff meeting with the client, giving them a conduit for getting on the same page, asking questions and getting answers, etc.

For smaller projects often a single project launch meeting with everyone on the internal and customer team is appropriate…since the whole inclusive team is so small.

Start with Why
Everyone should get a good understanding of why the project is being done, and also what is the end goal. Teams are much more productive when they know what they are doing and the end result they are trying to achieve. It is also REALLY helpful for everyone to have at least a general understanding of the ‘why’; understanding why the customer needs the project often helps guide decisions on how to implement it in the best way to achieve the customers goals.
Ask Questions
Everyone should be encouraged to ask as many questions as they have. You may not have all the answers but getting those things on the table will help the project be successful. If you are lucky, you do have answers for almost everything at the kickoff. Though, more often, you will be following up with the client to fill in some of the blanks that maybe no one thought of before the kickoff meeting.
Not Long
Project kickoff or launch meetings don’t have to be long – usually half an hour (for smaller projects) or an hour for bigger ones is all it takes to get everyone moving in the same direction and having a sense of ownership in what they are producing.
Keeping these points in mind helps start a project on the right foot, and provides a greater chance for project success. Keep in mind though, custom software projects are really complicated…this isn’t the only task to perform to make the project a success.

Why Be Transparent?

“Let’s all be open, honest, just get along, ok?”

How many times have you had a conversation with someone in a business setting and you had the gut feeling they weren’t being completely upfront and honest with you? Now think about how long you continued to interact or work with that person after that conversation? I’m willing to bet it probably wasn’t for very long. Any idea why? Probably as a result of lack of trust.

Trust is a very big part of business. It’s not something we often think about or are intentional about, but it’s always an underlying thought.

Why is it so important? It’s important because we’re all taking risks in everything we do in business and we want to know that other people we work with aren’t going to increase those risks or make our life or business worse. We are risking our time by, for example, focusing on a certain project, spending our time with a certain customers, or giving money to a certain vendor. If we can’t be fairly certain things are going to turn out well, then we will choose another project, customer, or vendor…or at least we should. We should listen to our gut instinct on the topic of trust.

So, if trust is so important, how can they gain our trust or vice versa? By being transparent. They should be open about what they do, how they do it, why they do it, and how it’ll be good for you. Now, there are certainly some secret sauces they can’t share, like the super secret search algorithms of Google, the secret formula of Coca Cola, or the code behind a small startup’s custom sales web software application.

With that said, they should still be able to represent and prove to you:

  • They are very good at what they do
  • They have done it before
  • What work is involved on your part
  • What the product or service will cost
  • What the true ROI could be if implemented in a certain way, and
  • What other people have succeeded in making that ROI with this provider.

Additionally, this should happen without a lot of smoke and mirrors on their part, and without you having to pull this information out of them.

This openness is what I call transparency.

So, to answer the original question, “Why be transparent?”. I think the answer is, so we can all just get a long and each succeed with our businesses and jobs. It’s must easier that way, and we can each have more success that way…if we’re transparent.

In our custom software business we are transparent, along with also managing expectations, focusing on on-time on-budget on-spec projects, and being strategic with customers. Following these principles makes the work a lot more fun and makes me a lot less stressed.

Are you transparent? What guiding principles or policies do you use in your business to do well by your customers, vendors, and others?