Knowing how to choose a software development company to partner with can be daunting. A software development partner can offer key strategic advantages over in-house development (learn more here). But choosing the wrong partner is a real risk. Nobody embarks on a software development project with the goal of failing.

Unfortunately, failure is a real possibility if you don’t find the right development partner. The key is getting the correct information to help you make the choice that’s genuinely right for your project. So how do you do that?

Simple. You need to ask the right questions and ensure you get good answers. After all, even if you’ve heard fantastic things about a company, you must ensure they’re a fit for YOU.

You’ll still ask questions about rates, billing practices, contracts, and whether they can meet your timeline. Those questions are important, but they shouldn’t be your only criteria. (We wish we could tell you otherwise, but making decisions on price alone is a surefire path to failure.) So what other questions really matter when choosing a software partner? What should you ask — and listen for — to gauge whether they will deliver the goods that will help you succeed?

To help you get the information you need to make the right choice for your business, Distillery put together a checklist of the 10 most crucial questions to ask during the interview process before choosing a software development company to partner with. Following the checklist are explanations of the “why” behind each question. We’ve also included guidance on what to listen for and what else you may want to ask.

Software Development Partner Interview Checklist

1) Tell me about your company and the specific team I’ll be working with.

2) Tell me about your experience completing projects similar to mine.

3) How will you ensure that you understand my project’s requirements?

4) What are your software design and development process, and why?

5) How and when will you communicate with me?

6) What involvement will be expected from me throughout the process?

7) What happens after my product has been delivered?

8) How does your process reduce my risk and increase my chances of success?

9) Can you provide references?

10) Why is your company right for my project?

1) Tell Me About Your Company and the Specific Team I’ll Be Working With.

Why It Matters

Most companies will have a ready-made pitch. The content and style will tell you a lot about how they see themselves, their customers, what their company stands for, and what products and services they have to offer. If the pitch does not sound like it will be fitting for your business and project, it might be time to consider other options.

With their response, you’re hoping to get a sense of whether their company and team will fit with yours.

What to Listen for

Make sure they indicate years in business, as working with a brand-new company may not be the best choice. Find out how many developers they have and their average years of experience. Ensure that the company is well staffed, and their workload is evenly spread so that other projects won’t interfere with their work on yours.

You want to ensure they have specific developers, UX/UI designers, and/or product/project managers in mind who are available and well-suited to your project.

What Else to Ask

You might inquire if they have certifications (e.g., Microsoft, Oracle) or have won any awards. You could ask what kind of clients they generally work with. If they haven’t explicitly addressed who’ll be on your team, ask again.

You want to make sure they’re prepared to staff your project and have put thought into how they’ll do it.

2) Tell Me About Your Experience Completing Projects Similar to Mine.

Why It Matters

They should be able to show a successful track record on projects somewhat similar to what you’re proposing. After all, you wouldn’t hire a house painter who’s never painted a house. They should have a portfolio of projects similar to yours that were successful as well to show off during the interviewing process. If they can’t show you a successful project history, this should be a red flag.

What to Listen for

Focus on their experience with similar product features, technical stacks, and industries, as well as experience working with similar organizations (i.e., similar in size, style or focus).

What Else to Ask

Ask follow-up questions to probe further. Some questions could include: what precisely they did do to make each project successful, and how much time is spent on ongoing support?

3) How Will You Ensure That You Understand My Project’s Requirements?

Why It Matters

Too often, there’s a gap between what you have in mind for your project and what the design and development team builds.

Understanding your requirements means achieving a clear and comprehensive understanding of your business issues, timeline, budget, and market objectives. A gap in understanding of your project requirements can lead to wasting your time and theirs on work that isn’t relevant to your business’s goals, cause the project to go over budget, and delay delivery of the finished product. Therefore, it’s imperative that they validate that understanding with you and that you understand why they’re proposing their solution to your specific business problems and goals. This exchange helps ensure that requirements are accurate and complete from the perspective of both the business and its users, provides a more precise delivery time, and that the project will likely stay closer to the original budget.

What to Listen for

Listen for words like wireframes, prototypes, proof of concepts, and minimum viable products (MVPs). Development companies use these tools to communicate their understanding and allow you to expand and correct that understanding.

Bonus points if their explanation specifically references your project and business issues.

What Else to Ask

If you weren’t satisfied with their answer, ask the question again in a different way: “How will you ensure you didn’t miss any requirements?”

4) What Is Your Software Design and Development Process, and Why?

Why It Matters

A good development partner will use a reliable, repeatable process that supports organization, consistency and quality control. It should be a thoughtful process based on practical experience, lessons learned, and industry-leading practices.

You also want to ensure their process includes delivering an evidence-based point of view and value-added ideas. You won’t benefit from “yes men” who do whatever you ask, regardless of whether it’s genuinely good for your project.

What to Listen for

They should talk about things like Agile processes, iterations, UX/UI research, QA/testing, logging, and starting with an MVP. These practices help ensure project success while expediting progress and reducing risk.

Again, bonus points if they talk about your project specifically. It shows they’ve genuinely thought about how they’ll work with you.

What Else to Ask

If they didn’t get specific, don’t let them off the hook. Instead, have them walk you through what your project will look like from your perspective or describe the process used to develop similar projects.

5) How and When Will You Communicate with Me?

Why It Matters

Your goal is to ensure open communication and transparency throughout the design and development process. This communication should also include updates on expected time frames for the deliverables of the project, as well as open communication through the process to ensure they are on target for your specific project. You can’t count on timely issue identification and resolution if they don’t have set communication protocols. You also can’t rely on achieving the product you hope for.

What to Listen for

They should address the who, when, and how of project communication, including the format and timing of updates; any tools to be used (e.g., Slack, Jira, DevOps), as well as your integration into those tools; and who your primary points of contact (POCs) will be during the development process. Finally, they should specify which specific issues or questions will spur communication.

Bonus points if they ask about YOUR preferences on when and how they communicate.

What Else to Ask

Once they’ve identified your primary POCs, ask whether they can ensure that your team will have some continuity. For example, can they ensure that you’ll have the same project manager or lead developer for the duration of the project?

6) What Involvement Will Be Expected from Me Throughout the Process?

Why It Matters

To get the proper requirements — reflecting a complete understanding of your business and user needs — they’ll need a significant initial time investment and ongoing involvement from you. To ensure the project will meet the requirements and goals of your business, your involvement should be much more than participating in updates, demos and reviews. (That’s why communication is a separate question in our checklist.) If they want to meet to gather requirements and not communicate again until a demo or review, that might not be the software company for you.

What to Listen for

They should expect you to be involved from the requirement gathering to the finished product and give clear expectations of what that involvement will look like. This is one moment when “don’t worry; we’ve got this” is the wrong answer.

What Else to Ask

Again, make sure their explanation is specific to your situation. It’s not helpful for you to know how it “generally” works. Instead, ask how it will “specifically” work for you.

7) What Happens After My Product Has Been Delivered?

Why It Matters

The company you choose to partner with should offer post-launch support. This should include demo meetings, supporting and patching any issues that arise, and potential for future updates to meet the changes in technology and your business goals.

What to Listen for

Ensure they’re capable of providing ongoing support, helping you with problems, improvements needed, or new features if desired. Make sure they address who owns the intellectual property (IP) (e.g., the source code and related documentation) post-delivery — and that the answer is YOU. If they insist on retaining ownership and charging you ongoing licensing fees, are they actually considering your best interests or their own?

What Else to Ask

Ask if they offer any warranties on their product and work or other service guarantees they’re willing to discuss.

8) How Does Your Process Reduce My Risk and Increase My Chances of Success?

Why It Matters

Making sure they understand the project from an organizational perspective is essential. This isn’t a situation where they provide you with a product and then leave you to handle it. Instead, they should have a complete plan to lay out how they will benefit your company and offer you success in the long term. The decision to work with them might need re-evaluation if they can’t readily answer this question.

What to Listen for

A good partner will give you a thoughtful answer that echoes key tenets of their development process. For example, they may mention user research, iterations, starting with an MVP, communication protocols, cost and quality control, scope management, or other items.

What Else to Ask

If they don’t bring up the items mentioned in “what to listen for,” ask about them directly. Ensure they’ve addressed your specific concerns (e.g., market viability, cost or schedule overruns, team continuity, IP security/insurance).

9) Can You Provide References?

Why It Matters

As you choose a software development company to partner with, a great candidate will provide a list of references and a portfolio of prior work. These are projects they should be proud to show off as a successful meeting of client needs. If they do not have a list of references for you, this could mean a couple of things. The first possibility is that the company is new and has not had many projects that could be similar to yours. Second, if they have been around a while, they don’t have any successful project deliveries they are willing to discuss.

What to Listen for

The only answer acceptable is “yes.” A “no” is a giant red flag.

What Else to Ask

Make sure you’ll be permitted to interview the references they give.

10) Why Is Your Company Right for My Project?

Why It Matters:

With this question, you’re feeling out how well they understand your business, product and goals. You don’t want to work with a partner that views you as a generic client; you should be made to feel as if your project and goals are a priority to them. But, on the other hand, you also don’t want to work with one that hasn’t listened closely to everything you’ve said.

What to Listen for

They should specifically mention the needs of your business and projects. If there are just giving you generalities of why they are so great, this should give you a reason to reconsider your choice of software development partner. They should be able to tie their value propositions directly to things that you’ve said are important to you.

What Else to Ask

If you’re feeling crafty, consider flipping the question on its head, asking, “Why is your company NOT right for my project?” Virtually no company will have a ready-made answer for this one.

If they give you an honest, thoughtful and relevant response, that’s a great sign. But, on the other hand, if they give you a disingenuous cop-out, that tells you something, too.

The Single Most Important Question

Ultimately, there are a lot of software development companies out there. As you choose a software development company to partner with, it’s imperative never to lose sight of the most critical question you need to answer for yourself: Are they the right software development company for YOU?

While there are legions of impressive, well-qualified companies out there, what matters most is whether they fit your unique needs. Therefore, it would be best to choose a development partner that will get the job done, understand your business, and keep your best interests at the forefront of every decision. That’s how you’ll give yourself the best possible chance at success.

Want to find out if Distillery might be a good fit for your development project? Let us know!