The single most costly mistake when building mobile products is choosing the wrong partner. The wrong partner will obviously cost money, but most importantly, it will cost trust and time. It will cost the trust of the executive team in “mobile” and it will cost time to market — allowing competition to gain market share.

Choosing the wrong partner loses enterprise trust in mobile.

Since I work at a custom software firm, I help clients understand our process, people, and capabilities to identify if we are the right partner for their specific project.

Guess what?

We frequently aren’t the best fit, and I regularly have this conversation with potential clients. At Seamgen, we spend a significant amount of time focusing on our strengths, and I frequently refer people away that inquire about a service our team shouldn’t be solving.

How is somebody suppose to know how to choose a partner?

1. Before you choose a partner, you need to understand how your team works.

In order to figure out a potential partner to bring your mobile product to life, it is very important that you understand how your internal team functions.

Do you need multiple approvals?
How fast is your feedback loop?
Does your team need specific instructions, or are they independent?
What happens when there is a problem?
Do you have internal project management?
What PM style do you use?
How much legitimate budget do you have?
Is your team okay with pivoting during development, or are they use to pre-defined requirements?
What happens if they don’t hit a deadline?
What politics exist?
What communication patterns exist?
What personalities are at play?
What expertise exists — junior or senior level?
Do you have strong product owners?
Who are the major stakeholders? 

And many more questions.

2. Choose a partner with similar working styles — not just expertise

Most likely, your potential partners have already passed the basic screening — Fortune level client roster, relevant work history, a process that looks tested, and a nice-looking team.

But, do they fit with your internal culture?
Do they have relevant experience solving similar problems? 

A consulting partner will always bring a certain culture to the table, and making sure this culture aligns with your team’s is very important. Culture and expectations are incredibly important.

The only way to figure this out is by asking very specific questions to the potential partner.

What communication tools do you use?
What happens when a deadline doesn’t get hit?
How do you measure velocity?
How do you plan to involve our team in the process?

3. Start with an appropriate budget for your vision

Design, development, and consulting partners all cost money, and you get what you pay for. If you are trying to find a discount, you will usually get discount-quality work, or the partner won’t be able to hold those rates for very long.

At a certain point, it’s math — firms that have a higher billable rate can pay their employees more, which allows the firm to constantly recruit and pay the best talent. This is especially true for boutique firms with low overhead.

The best cost money, and the quality scales rather exponential down the cost basis. As somebody once told me, “when you buy the best, you only cry once.”

When I’m vetting a potential partner, I always try to figure out a couple questions…

  1. Do our working styles align? This applies across project management, team personalities, communication preferences, and the mysterious “culture”.
  2. Do our communication styles align? Communication is linked to expectations, and different teams have different ways of expressing expectations. Aligning on communication styles is incredibly important.
  3. Are they prepared to hire a partner? If a potential partner has an idea, and requirements, this doesn’t always mean their internal team is ready to actually move forward. The team needs to collaborate, and be open to doing this with a partner.
  4. Do they have realistic expectations? Working with teams that don’t understand custom software development takes time is frustrating, and sometimes expectations aren’t well-aligned. Both teams need the expectation that unknowns always come up and it’s okay.
  5. Do they understand how billing, tracking, and resource management works? Are we on the same page or can we teach our partner how to use their budget efficiently to hit the target.

There are plenty more mistakes about choosing partners that I”ll get into in later posts.

This is one part of a series called 9 Mobile Product Building Mistakes. Stay tuned shortly for Mobile Product Building Mistake #9: Assuming the product should be mobile or native.