Dale Webb

How to Choose the Right Software Development Company

In the fast paced and ever evolving digital world we live in today, there is a wealth of information available at our fingertips and the answers to our questions are usually only a Google search or button press away.

Businesses are of course aware of this with many of them dedicating a large amount of time and resources to try and ensure that they are the first, the loudest, the most obvious and/or appealing in your search engine results. This 'digitally superficial' approach to making those businesses look to be the obvious choice however remains just that - a surface level indication as to how good a job the marketing department are doing, and by no means reflects the quality of (in this instance) their development capabilities, company values, processes, working relationships and all of the other fundamentally important aspects.

Who is the right software development option for you?

Software systems are the central nervous system of businesses, integrating received information and coordinating and influencing the activity of all parts of the 'body'. It's therefore of paramount importance that the software system(s) you choose to use in your business are as close to perfect as possible, and this of course starts with choosing the right company to work with from the beginning. This leads to the big question - "how do I know which company IS the right one?"

Whilst there is no clear cut answer to this question, there are a number of important factors to consider when making your choice. Let's explore a few of these now.

Understanding

This should always be one of the first things that stands out about any company you engage with, from the messaging on their website, blog and social media, to how they come across when communicating in meetings, over the phone or through email.

The most successful businesses are those who truly understand their audience and consistently place an emphasis on doing just that. This applies to every walk of life; the arts (songwriters, producers, film directors, artists), the medical profession (doctors, dentists, therapists), retail (supermarkets, e-commerce sites), automotive, marketing and of course custom software development.

Given the importance of software systems and how many facets of your business and operations rely on them, any company that you approach should be able to clearly explain and demonstrate how and why they will be able to understand your business and your needs to an exceptional level. For example some considerations might be:

1. What do they do to set themselves apart and provide us with the confidence that they will truly understand what we need and why?
2. What does their discovery phase look like? How much time will they spend with us? Will they visit us on site, meet the workforce, talk to the end users as well as the decision makers? How often do they do this and to what degree?
3. Are they good listeners? We don't just want to be heard we want to be listened to.
4. Do they try to solutionise and take on our challenges before we're finished explaining what they are? We're not comfortable with this.
4. Do they really have our best interests at heart rather than their own?
5. Although they understand our business processes and operations, are they making sure that they understand our core business values?
6. Do they offer any workshops? Who are the stakeholders?
7. Can they describe who we are, what we do, what we want and what we don't want just as well as we can?

The bottom line here is simply that if the company you've approached to undertake work do not listen, empathise, and understand the DNA of your business, the likelihood is that they are set to fail from the get go.

When it comes to custom software, do not settle for anything but the best.

Working Relationships

The best and most successfull custom software businesses also have tightly knit and incredibly productive working relationships with their clients. They never treat their clients as just another statistic or invoice away from their quarterly target. Their clients aren't just customers they are advocates, they are proud to be associated with the software provider and often refer their friends and associates when they too have software needs.

How do these businesses get to that point though? What do they do that results in their clients having such an affinity with them? It's often down to a combination of reasons, some of those may include:

  1. They do not just manage expectations, they exceed them, regularly. We've all been in situations when interacting with a person or a business where we are pleasantly surprised by something, and the continuation of that pleasantly surprised feeling can easily dip into the realms of awe. "They called me back earlier than I expected, they resolved that issue for me far quicker than I thought they would, they instill a sense of positivity in everything they do even when resolving issues or facing challenges".
  2. They are responsive at all times and receptive to your needs, concerns and challenges.
  3. They are never dismissive even when they disagree. They take the time to explain things and do so in such a manner that you know you matter and that your opinion matters.
  4. They look after you and can never do enough for you. They do or say things that you were going to ask about, before you have even asked. Much like those conversations with a loved one or a close friend where you either finish their sentence or they finish yours, the best companies to work with have a similar ability and operate on the same wavelength as their (prospective) clients.  

Experience ≠ Passion

Having read many articles about software development over the years (custom software, modular software and SaaS), I have noticed that a huge amount of importance is placed upon the experience of the company in question. This is definitely important and an essential part of deciding which company will have the pleasure of doing business with you, however experience as a factor in isolation is simply not enough.

Allow me to set the scene - you've come across a great looking website, it has plenty of case studies, the credentials and qualifications of the staff are second to none, they've been established for a very long time and after a quick phone call with an enthusiastic member of their sales team you decide to visit their office to meet the team.

You arrive and are greeted with a limp handshake from a person who struggles to force a smile and tells you to take a seat while they find your host. You're thirsty but aren't offered a drink and despite a fairly long and uncomfortable train journey you aren't pointed in the direction of the facilities.

Your host then arrives and leads you through to the main office. The first thing that hits you is a deafening silence. Nobody says a word, the walls are bare, there's no movement, no sign of any awards, commendations or achievements, no branding, in fact there's nothing on display that indicates any sense of pride. The atmosphere feels 'grey'. Maybe everybody is just concentrating? Those you're introduced to greet you in monotone voices and lack any sense of "je ne sais quoi" whilst you sit and listen to them reel off their experiences in a range of industries and programming languages.

Where's the passion? Where is the buzz? Where's the positive energy?

Nevermind the lack of courtesy as you still haven't been shown the facilities - where's the passion!? Where is the buzz!? Where's the positive energy that should be permeating throughout the office? The company in question may have a wealth of experience but would they be a pleasure to work with? Would you trust them to go the extra mile?

Experience has its uses but those uses are certainly limited without passion, without a love of the job that's being performed. Try to find businesses that are full of people who clearly love what they are doing. People who are excitable but focused, who have a clear and passionate drive. A great indication of this in the world of custom software development is when developers regularly contribute to open source communities. When they experiment with technologies both in and out of the office. They were probably the kinds of children who took things apart and constantly experimented with things (often at a cost picked up by their parents).

Trust your instincts and go with your gut. You will know if a company feels right the second you walk into their office and meet the staff.

Post Deployment

I've come across many companies in my working career who don't place enough emphasis on the post deployment phase. I like to see this phase as comparable to being an outpatient of a clinic or hospital after major surgery - are you being looked after? What do you do if have any issues? Who do you go to and how long will it be until you hear back? Do the company even care about you anymore!?

It may seem counter-intuitive to ask about the end of your software journey at the beginning, but it will give you a great insight into how much the company cares about its clients, and will ensure that you aren't hung out to dry. Service Level Agreements, channels of communication, issue resolution, system training, uptime guarantees, security and software updates and more, it is vital that you know what to expect. Besides, if you've chosen to go with the right custom software company they will of course be exceeding your expectations at all times!

If you are searching for a bespoke solution and would like to see if Langley Foxall are the right company for you then please don't hesitate to contact us.