How To Choose Software Development Partner

High QualityI was wandering around Cascais to find a place for dinner. Not just a place – it’s pretty easy to find a place in touristy locations – but a place that serves good food. I ended up in an alley with four restaurants side by side. I didn’t make my choice based on the content of the menus displayed outside. I used the guidance of reviews I found in the internet. In fact, the reason I ended up in that alley was because I was seeking that very place.

Later, when I was eating a gorgeous sea bass I realized that I hadn’t a faintest idea of what the other three restaurants charge for a similar meal. The neighboring places might have been cheaper, even significantly cheaper and I wouldn’t have noticed.

I guess price is not the only factor one considers for when they want to have a good meal. Of course, I looked at the prices before committing, aka ordering a meal, but an idea of cross-checking the prices with other restaurants hadn’t even crossed my mind.

I wasn’t there for a cheap dinner. I was there for a good dinner.

Another layer to that story is why I was in Cascais. It is where this year’s Kanban Leadership Retreat was held. This event for me is the one where I start planning my travels every year around. The quality is great, the setup is perfectly adjusted to its goals and the people who pop up are the right people.

Is it cheap? No. I wouldn’t say it is super-expensive either but it’s definitely not cheap. Does price matter for me? Not until it is outrageous.

I’m not here for a cheap event. I’m here for an awesome event.

Now, why would I bore you with stories about eating great seafood in beautiful Portugal?

The reason is that it reminded me painfully of the number of sales conversations I had with our potential clients. The focus of those calls was based on our rates. What’s more, the rates seemed to be the only key factor for these guys in which to base their decision around.

This is exactly the wrong discussion to have.

It’s like looking for a good dinner and choosing the cheapest place. It’s like looking for a good event and choosing the least costly. Do you do that? So why, the heck, would you do that when the future success of your product was at stake?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that price is irrelevant at all. We all have some sort of budgets. I wouldn’t pay 200 EUR for my dinner only because the sea bass was delicious. What really matters here is the value for money. What is value for money? This is the ultimate question which needs to be answered. This is the parameter that we should be focused on.

Interestingly enough, when it comes to feeding ourselves we are pretty damn good at it. We don’t eat crap food only because it hits our pockets the least. Occasionally we’d go for something fancy even if it is expensive. We can even dynamically balance the tradeoffs we make across cost and quality dimensions depending on the context.

On occasion we’d take convenience into consideration and eat whatever is available at hand. Sometimes we may not be able to afford what is the best value for money as it would simply be too expensive. From time to time we’d experiment and go with a risky option which we can’t easily assess its value.

Now, the thing I don’t understand is why people turn their common sense off when it comes to building their products. Imagine that you have an idea that you believe in. You took effort to get funding or you fund it by yourself. Alternatively, you may act as a proxy for someone funding the whole thing.

Do you really want the cheapest possible delivery? Are you aware of all the tradeoffs you are taking in a package? And I’m not talking about quality or lead time only, but also about all the interactions and collaboration.

Are you OK to get the fast food of software development? If so, that’s perfectly OK, but I’m afraid we are not the right partner for you.

If you, however, want to get good value let’s discuss how we work so that you achieve a quality outcome. What’s more, I would encourage you to run an experiment. Don’t invite your whole family and friends to our restaurant for your birthday party. Just stop by for a quick light lunch. You’ll learn whether you like what you get.

When I say an equivalent of lunch I mean just few weeks of work. Define which feature or features will be required in every single crazy scenario you can think of. I don’t ask you to define an MVP. Just something that you’d start with. We sometimes label it as Minimal Indispensable Feature Set. Once we’ll have built it, you will pretty much know whether you want to continue. And so will we.

By the way, a conversation about the rates makes perfect sense in that context. Except, you may realize that in the same way as it was with my dinner it may be fairly irrelevant as long as it is reasonable. Not reasonable as in “compared to the cheapest fast food around” but reasonable as in “seems like a fair price for what I expect to be a good dinner here.”

Another interesting context to this whole discussion is that the consequences of choosing a bad restaurant aren’t nearly as painful as consequences of choosing a bad partner to work with on your software product. Yet, it seems to me that software vendors are most often chosen for all the bad reasons. No wonder that what is acceptable quality for software would be considered appalling in pretty much any other context.

There is one more thing. When looking for a restaurant it isn’t unusual that we use higher prices as an indicator of quality. After all, if the restaurant had exactly the same quality as all the other places they wouldn’t be able to consistently charge more and keep the business running. They must be doing something better, right?

The same story goes with how busy a place is. The more people sitting around the tables the more likely that they serve good food.

Keep that in mind for the next time when you’re looking for a partner for something lasting and costing a few orders of magnitude more than a dinner. Like your web application for example.

Finally, please don’t treat that as a marketing message. Even if you consider us as your partner and you use that guidance to choose another partner, that’s perfect. Any business relationship is healthy and sustainable only as long as it is win-win. What I hope for is that this post is helpful in terms of finding those win-win relationships.