(Editor’s Note: Find these questions and much more in the second edition of our popular ebook, From Great Idea to Successful App)
We’ve heard many client horror stories about the mistakes they made when they first engaged with a previous app development agency. Usually we find that they could have saved themselves a lot of grief and expense if they had asked the right questions. With that in mind, here are 10 questions you should always ask before you start a project with any digital design app and development agency:
1. Will I own the code?
Some development firms offer a discounted rate if they retain the rights to your project after its done. There are a couple of reasons why this is a terrible idea for any business:
- If you ever want to make a change to the product your developer can effectively hold you hostage, charge any rate they want for fixes and schedule the work when it is convenient for them.
- You’d lose total ownership of that intellectual property, which might be a problem for you down the road if your company is looking for investors or wants to be acquired. Everyone’s on a budget — but giving up ownership of the code is a bad way to save a few bucks.
2. What product management process will you use?
From strategy to design to development, we highly recommend that any developer use an agile methodology on your project. Traditional fixed project development processes with concrete specifications locked in stone don’t provide the flexibility that you need to maximize your budget and meet your business goals. The agile process allows you to make a continuous stream of forward progress with your product in a rapid fashion, and fosters collaboration between team members.
You should expect regular check-ins with your digital design agency team, whether you’re involved in active project stand-ups or get separate demos/updates from your project lead. And you should see progress on a weekly basis, if not more frequently. (ArcTouch provides daily feedback on most projects.) Agile also gives you and your app development team the opportunity to be flexible during the project. With each short-term “sprint,” the team will constantly test and iterate. Changes in the market, new technologies that become available, or things you learn during testing can be applied to the next iteration. Things move too fast these days — you need a partner with a flexible product management process to keep up.
3. How will you estimate costs and schedule for my project?
Every client we’ve ever worked with wants to know what the project is going to cost and how long it’s going to take. But the clients we have the most success with understand that getting an accurate estimate doesn’t happen in a five-minute phone call. Be wary of any firms that offer lowball bids after a brief phone meeting — they may be desperate for new business, probably don’t understand your needs, and are much more likely to deliver sub-par quality. Their hope is to hook you early and make up the difference later. It will cost you a lot more in the end if your app needs big changes — or worse, a redo. We’ve inherited plenty of distressed projects from other developers that were in crisis because of this situation.
4. If I’m not happy with how a project is progressing, can I get out of the contract?
Make sure you have the ability to get out of any agreement with a development firm if you’re unhappy with the work you see or with the project’s progress. At any point, you should be able to take ownership of the work that’s been done — including any designs and code — and move on.
5. Can I talk to three of your current customers?
Asking this question is just common sense for anyone vetting different service providers. If an agency has a hard time giving you three good references, it’s time to look elsewhere. (Ask us for references anytime.)
6. What are the types of customers you work with?
This is a good gauge of whether a developer has experience working with clients like you to create products like yours. Do they have examples of highly refined, consumer-grade applications from well known companies? Most importantly, see if they have experience with the kind of complex integrations your product will require — for example, an enterprise app that requires integration with a legacy back-end or a CRM database, or a consumer app that works with social platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
7. Can I meet in person with the app developers and designers?
If you don’t get a firm answer on this, the company might be in the business of outsourcing development to freelance contractors. That’s not the way we work. You can meet our engineers and designers in person, and we can work on-site at your office during various phases of the project.
8. Do your designers and engineers know key people at Apple, Google, Amazon, or Facebook?
The answer to this question gives you an indication of how closely a firm’s developers work with the companies responsible for the major platforms. Having those relationships is crucial to understanding the ever-changing landscape of mobile — and knowing about key updates to the OS that should be factored into the development of your app.
9. How do you test?
If someone tells you that testing means some basic QA after the product is built, you should look elsewhere. Testing should be integrated throughout development. At ArcTouch, we offer a suite of 16 QA steps, 11 of which are standard for any project. There’s no compromising on quality.
10. What are your most successful products and projects and can we try them?
If you were interviewing someone for a job, you’d ask them about the projects they worked on and the companies they worked for. Take the same approach here — a developer is only as good as the products they’ve created. (Feel free to browse our case studies and client roster.)