7 Questions To Ask A Prospective Software Outsourcing Partner

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Are you considering outsourcing for the development or support of a significant piece of software or have you in the past? Selecting the right partner is critical, but how do you know if you are asking the right questions?

There are a number of considerations, some short term, some longer term that can affect the success of your project. Custom software ownership is a long term commitment that begins with development, and is followed by ongoing support and enhancements. So when you are searching for a software outsourcing firm to handle your project, look for a partner that can provide your company with the best overall value.

Many newcomers to custom software development focus heavily on the hourly rates for development staff or look for the lowest bid. This is understandable because quotes and rates are easily quantifiable. However, there are many additional factors to consider before you choose the firm you feel is the best partner for your project.

So, how do you go about that? Here are seven insightful questions you can ask prospective software outsourcing partners and some thoughts on what you should expect for an answer. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will help you gather the information you need to make a good decision.

1.) Have you completed projects similar to ours? If so, please tell me about one of them. If not, what qualifications do you have that make your firm a good candidate for our project?

You should expect a clear and detailed answer to this question. If the answer is light on details, ask further questions like, “how long did the project take?” or “how many people worked on the project?”. If the example project was short or was handled by a single developer, and yours requires a team for an extended period, it may indicate a lack of genuine experience.

2.) Describe your software development process from a customer’s perspective. What can I expect?

The answer to this question will give you an idea of the maturity of the prospective partner firm. It is also a difficult question to answer effectively without going into too much detail. You have two primary goals when evaluating this answer. First of all, determine if their process sounds consistent and organized and second, understand how you as the customer will be involved and informed and whether that will meet your expectations and those of your stakeholders.

3.) Will the same people be assigned to my project for the length of the development effort?

The cost of ramping up new staff on a complex project can be significant. This is an important question where you are trying to determine if your prospective partner can deliver and retain staff experienced with your software during the development phase and provide support and enhancements over time. There are numerous follow up questions that you can ask here such as:

Will your staff work full time on my project?
Will I be told if you are changing the staff that works on my project?
Are the assigned staff employees of your firm or do they work as contractors?
What is the turnover rate at your firm? (If it is consistently more than 10% on an annual basis it could signify retention issues and pose a risk to your project.)

4.) Where will the work be performed?

As a follow up to the staffing questions above, it is important to understand where the work will be performed. If you are speaking with a domestic firm, you cannot assume the work will be performed onshore. Some firms are hybrids with design and project management onshore and development work handled by offshore teams. It’s not a deal killer, but definitely something you want to understand up front.

For more information on the differences between onshore and offshore software outsourcing, check out Rural Outsourcing: A Cure All For What Ails Your Software Development Project?

5.) Tell me about your hiring process. Where do you find your candidates and what do you look for when hiring new developers?

There are many flavors of software development and you want to ensure the prospective firm has the necessary skills for your project. Because software developers are in such high demand there has been pressure to come up with short term solutions to meet the need. Some companies have started their own boot camp programs to train people to become programmers through intensive, short (e.g. 90 days) training programs. Compare this with a firm that seeks staff with four year degrees in Computer Science. Although it’s apples and oranges, make sure you know what you are buying.

6.) Who will own the finished product and will we receive the source code and related materials?

If the answer to this is anything other than, “you paid for it, you own it”, run for the hills. Other than you as the customer having to pay for the work, there should not be any additional qualifiers to this answer.

7.) What is different about your firm versus other software outsourcing firms that I might consider? 

While this is a highly subjective question, we could go on at length about it if we were asked. This is where you look for passion and confidence in the firm and the services they offer.

The Final Question…

There are a lot of other questions you can ask, and I have left out some obvious ones that everyone asks (e.g. how much will it cost). But, the final question you should ask of yourself and everyone involved in the selection process is, “regardless of cost, which firm do I want for a long term software outsourcing partner?” The answer to this question will tell you who to trust with your project.


About Scott Risdal

Scott RisdalScott has been in the software development industry for over 30 years and has seen most of what is under the sun during that time. They don’t let him program any more, but he is still good for an opinion. Nowadays most of his time is spent on the business development side of things, and there is a good chance that he will pick up the phone when you call Saturn Systems to talk about your project. If you do, you can also talk to him about: curling, mountain biking, cross country skiing and music.

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