How to choose an IT Provider when you are not ‘technical’?

Updated IT News

Non-technical owners can follow some basic steps to understand whether an IT Provider has the skills needed for their software project.

For most people outside of the world of IT and software development, the technical details, languages and complexities of the industry can often seem daunting and impenetrable.

That’s not a surprise: it’s why it takes real dedication and constant learning to be a professional developer.

For founders and owners of companies with little or no technical background, this can present a problem.

How can you judge whether an IT provider you are considering for your web or app project is ‘good’? How can you tell whether the technical solutions they are proposing are the best choice for your particular project? And how can you know whether they will be able to fulfil the technical demands required by your unique business and/or product?
These are important questions, and answering them will be the focus of this article.

These are important questions, and answering them will be the focus of this article.

But first, before we get to our suggestions on how to properly vet a potential IT development provider, let’s cover some of the steps that you should avoid.

Do not:

  • Try and research general technical questions to ask the potential IT company.

IT software development is a complex and multilayered process that usually requires years of engagement and study to even begin to grasp.

For someone who doesn’t understand the nuances involved, it will not make sense to try and get involved in a technical conversation.

  • Rely solely on references.

While references can give you a good idea about how an IT provider performed in a general professional sense, they cannot give you a clear indication of the provider’s ability to fulfil the unique demands and requirements of your business.

  • Bring in someone you know with technical experience to interview them.

Although this may seem like a good idea, the rate at which coding and development evolves – and the multitude of different approaches and languages out there – means that someone with past experience in coding may be completely out of touch with the possibilities offered by the company you are considering.

Added to that, someone with superficial technical knowledge who is also not intimately aware of your business’ unique characteristics will have a hard time understanding whether an IT provider is a good fit for the job.

So, what should you do?

During the process of selecting an IT provider, the client company will clearly want to have a transparent communication of factors such as price and the timing involved.

These are undoubtedly important elements, but they will usually follow a discussion of the technical and business requirements of the project, and whether the IT provider will be the right fit for the job.

First of all, we suggest that you undertake the interview process with the candidate company yourself: after all you know your business better than anyone, and your ability to relate and communicate with your potential IT Partner will determine the success of the project.

Exchange with all project stakeholders on the IT provider's side
Exchange with all project stakeholders on the IT provider’s side

In order to have a clear idea of who you are working with, we suggest that the participants from the IT provider’s side include its owner or executive, a project manager and a lead developer.  

In the discussion, we suggest taking the following approach in order to assess their abilities and professionalism:

1. Make sure they understand your project

Before your discussion, the IT provider team should ideally be briefed on the general idea of the project you need from them, and how it will contribute or integrate with your business. If that’s not possible, then you should start with a general overview and introduction of your project: a quick, 2-minute ‘elevator pitch’.

After that, these are some questions you should ask them:

  • What do they think the goals of the project are?
  • Ask them to repeat the idea of the project back to you in their own words. Do they understand it properly?

Try and challenge their answers to see how they respond and whether they have flexible or inflexible positions.

2. Ask them about the last project they worked on that shared a similar industry or business goals to yours.

  • What do they think was similar, and what was different?
  • What non-technical challenges did they face in understanding, communicating and realizing the business objectives?
  • What project management tools did they use? What were the benefits of those, and what problems did they encounter?
  • What did they do wrong, and how did they fix it?

The answers to these questions should give you a good indication of how the IT company responds to the inevitable challenges and issues that come up during the course of a software development project.

It will also indicate whether they can respond well to criticism and embrace self-reflection.

It will also give you an idea of how well they communicate between themselves and with their clients, and what methods they use in order to make that process as smooth and efficient as possible.

3. Get to the technical stuff (sort of)

This is the stage where you will be able to get an understanding of the IT provider’s ability to understand the technical tools they are working with – and be able to communicate them to someone non-technical.

Staying on the topic of their last project, ask them to:

  • Explain the technical approach as simply as possible, using concepts and metaphors that can be understood by anyone (including you). Great developers will be able to condense complex technical approaches and challenges into easy-to-understand language, and to demonstrate that they comprehend real-world dynamics and can relate to non-technical people.
  • Ask them about the technical challenges or mistakes they made, and how they fixed them. If they start to use too much technical language and acronyms and you get lost in the explanation, then that is something to worry about.

4. Ask them how they can envision the work on your project evolving

This will be the chance to see how confident and capable they are with working on your project.

How does the provider see your project developing?

You can ask them to give you a rough estimate of how many team members would be needed to realize it, how long it would take, and what challenges might arise.

Ask them how many different technical options are available for getting the result you want, and what the benefits and downsides of each might be.

Remember, take your time and don’t rush the discussion. Choosing an IT development partner should be a careful and intimate procedure, as they will ultimately define part or all of your digital capabilities and identity.

At Bocasay, we take every opportunity to truly understand our clients’ unique business needs, goals and environments, and are highly experienced at establishing seamless project management processes that are tailored to each of our clients.

Have a web or app project that you want to build? Get in touch and let’s talk about how we can do it together.

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