How to Choose a Software Development Partner

Dayana Mayfield

Agile Product Development

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Hiring a software development partner is one of the most important business decisions you’ll ever make.

It’s an expensive investment, with companies spending around $150,000 per year (or more) with their software development agency.

Choose wisely, and you’ll have a partner by your side for years to come to help you with product strategy, continuous deployment, and quality assurance.

But if you choose the wrong partner, you can get stuck in a nightmare of investing thousands of dollars every month while your product stalls and your market and competitors move on without you.

We've created this hiring guide to help you make the right decision.

In it, you’ll find the top 10 criteria to vet for, a list of questions to ask, pro hiring tips, and red flags to watch out for.

What to look for in a software development partner

Consider this your hiring checklist.

When vetting a potential software development partner, make sure that you’re aligned on all of these elements.

10 Vetting Criteria When Selecting a Software Development Partner:

  1. Full product team VS individual developers

  2. Level of project management

  3. Approach for MVPs or project takeovers

  4. Expertise in the right development framework

  5. Discovery process

  6. Communication style

  7. Timezone of main point of contact

  8. Cost (relative to what you get)

  9. Expected launch timeline

  10. Willingness to hand the project back to you

What to look for in a software development partner

Below, we dive into these criteria in greater detail.

1. Full product team VS individual developers

What sort of talent do you need?

Are you behind on hiring and desperately need a few experienced developers to add to your team?

Or do you need to acquire an entire high-performing development team?

A product development team should include a product strategist, a technical product manager, a UX/UI designer, 2+ experienced developers, DevOps engineers, and QA testers.

Make sure that the company you choose can provide you with all of the talent you need to take your product to the finish line.

2. Level of project management

Do you have the time it requires to manage developers, designers, and QA managers?

If you’re unsure about your ability or availability to manage a development team, you should get help.

Choose a software development partner that offers product management, preferably by a technical product manager with some previous development experience. They’ll be best suited to manage devs.

3. Approach for MVPs or project takeovers

How does the company you’re considering working with approach your type of project?

What’s their process for building a product from scratch?

How do they approach project takeovers and product revitalization?

For example, we offer Design Sprints for new products. The process includes strategy workshops, low-fidelity prototyping, user testing, and high-fidelity prototyping to answer a set of specific sprint validation questions.

The more detailed and specific their process for handling projects like yours, the easier it is to trust in their experience.

4. Expertise in the right development framework

Your chosen company should also have extensive experience in the framework that will set your project up for success.

If you’re unsure which frameworks are the current clear winners, use this as your guide.

These are the best-in-class frameworks for any app:


  • React

  • Vue.js

Backend frameworks:

  • Laravel

  • Node.js


  • React Native

  • Angular


  • Electron


  • Google Cloud

  • AWS

  • Digital Ocean

Backend languages:

  • PHP

  • Javascript

  • Go

5. Discovery process

How does the software development partner vet new feature ideas? They shouldn’t just build what you ask them to build. They should have an ironed-out discovery process in place.

We like to think in terms of “bets.” We make bets on what will create value for users and revenue for your business. We validate these bets before we build using various methods (user research, user testing on prototypes, market research, potential impact versus cost, etc.)

We’re always gathering requirements for the next sprint while developing.

So there are always two sprints running concurrently: the Discovery Sprint and the Delivery Sprint.

The software development partner you choose should have their own process for validating your ideas throughout the working relationship.

6. Communication style

As they say, communication is key.

You’ll want to be aligned on all of these communication elements:

  • Ease of communication in English

  • Communication platforms (Slack? Email?)

  • Communication schedule (Daily? Weekly?)

  • Proactive reporting

  • Work visibility and transparency (Github and Jira access)

In ideal work relationships, there’s also a vibe match. You should enjoy working with your software development partner. If you feel like the person you’re chatting with could fit in at your company, there’s a better chance that the company cultures will be aligned.

7. Timezone of main point of contact

There are talented developers all over the world. Offshoring and nearshoring are common strategies in software development for lowering project costs.

In most cases, you don’t need direct contact with your development team. You need to be in touch with your main point of contact, typically a product manager, who communicates with your developers.

Ideally, that person should be in the same timezone as you. This way, you don’t have to bend over backward to schedule calls with them, and asynchronous communication can happen faster too.

8. Cost (relative to what you get)

Of course, cost is always a factor. You want to make sure that the company is quoting something you can afford.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Cost versus risk - A fully-managed product team will be slightly more expensive than just hiring individual developers. However, this also entails less business risk because the developers will be managed by someone who knows what they’re doing.

  • Payment and contract structure - How does the company plan to collect payment? Will they lock you into a large 6- or 7-figure contract and expect a hefty amount upfront? (We charge clients month-to-month with no long-term contracts so you can experience the value of our work without big risks.)

  • Developer experience options - The software development company might have options for the developers’ experience level. For instance, you might be able to save money by having two senior developers and two mid-level developers on your team, instead of only senior devs.

9. Expected launch timeline

You’ll also want to consider whether or not the software development partner can help you get to market quickly or takeover your project in a reasonable timeline.

This isn’t an arbitrary vetting criteria where you just choose the company that matches your expectations.

The project timeline is actually an opportunity to understand the software development agency a little better. Find out why they’re pitching that timeline to you, what will contribute to helping speed up your project, and what circumstances might slow it down. Their answers will reveal a lot about their experience not just developing software, but managing every aspect from strategy to deployment to quality assurance.

We took over a failed product created by another agency, rebuilt it, and set it live in just 3 months.

Check out the full Musician’s Toolkit case study

This speed is attributed to:

  • Strategic MVP development

  • Using modern development frameworks (namely Laravel)

  • Optimized, plug-and-play development processes

10. Willingness to hand the project back to you

And lastly, make sure you choose a software development partner that is willing to give ownership of your product back to you if/when you want to bring development in-house.

The best way to test for this willingness is to ask about their current processes for project handover.

They should provide the backlog, code repository, roadmap, etc. They should also mention that they provide training and upskilling for your team and that they make themselves available to answer questions for a certain period of time.

How to vet a software development partner

All of the criteria above are critically important for choosing an agency.

To truly vet your potential partner, you should also make sure that you’ve checked their development process and work samples.

Understand the development process

Find out the strategies and philosophies that the agency plans to employ. How do they manage agile projects? What happens in week one? What are the goals for the first strategy workshop?

The firm should offer a very clear system and approach to development. It should be ironed out to a T. For example, here’s a snapshot of what happens during Week 1 of our Design Sprint process.

No matter what project or service we’re pitching, we’ll be able to give you a play-by-play preview of what will happen at every stage.

The potential software development partner you’re considering should be able to do the same. If they can’t clearly articulate their processes, they won’t be able to manage your project through completion successfully.

Check work samples

You should also ask for work samples as part of your vetting process.

Look at prototypes and product UX samples so you can check that their work is up to par with user expectations for design.

Our prototype for Roastday, a business management platform for coffee roasters

You should also ask the agency to provide some examples of working products. If the software doesn’t have a free plan or trial that lets you explore, ask to be given a tour of one of their work examples on a call, so you can see the functionality and quality for yourself.

List of questions to ask

Keep this list handy when interviewing software development agencies:

  • Who would be my main point of contact?

  • What is their experience with building and managing products?

  • How do you hire and vet developers?

  • How do you communicate with clients about project progress?

  • What is your approach for optimizing UX?

  • Do you offer user testing?

  • How would you work with me to find users?

  • What does your prototyping process look like?

  • How do you help clients vet their prototypes?

  • What coding framework would you recommend for my project and why?

  • Why are you interested in taking my project on?

  • What former projects have been similar to mine?

  • What did you learn from working on former projects similar to mine?

  • Can I see examples of product prototypes?

  • Can I see live, functioning examples of your work?

  • What handover support would you provide if/when I’m ready to takeover the project in-house again?

  • What platform do you recommend for product analytics?

  • How does your team use product analytics data?

  • Are there any options available to lower the cost of my project?

  • What are the big risks of my project, and how will you help me mitigate them?

  • What can I do to be an excellent client and collaborator?

Of course, you don’t have to ask all of these questions. Based on the research and conversations you’ve had so far, you might already know the answers to some. And others may not apply to your situation.

Pro tips when hiring a software development partner

The vetting process can be as complicated or simple as you want it to be. Sometimes, trusting yourself is even more useful than hounding the sales rep with a long list of questions.

If you use these pro hiring tips, you can’t go too far wrong.

Be realistic about all of the talent you need (hint: not just developers)

One of the worst mistakes you could make is hiring a team that simply doesn’t offer what you need.

Maybe they hook you up with three vetted developers, leaving you to manage them. Or maybe they offer development and project management, but the DevOps department is majorly lacking and your product isn’t secure or scalable. Or maybe they don’t provide high-quality QA.

Before you pull the trigger, make sure they include every resource you’ll need to launch a product.

Choose the option that will launch your product faster

Speed is pretty much always a good thing.

If one company says that they can take your product to market 6 months faster than the other companies you’re considering, you might want to choose them.

Not only will faster go-to-market speeds equate quicker revenue, better cash flow, and less business risk, but development speed is also a good sign of optimized development processes and expertise.

Just make sure the company can back up their claims. Why do they operate faster than their competition? Is it because they’re using fast development frameworks like Laravel and React Native? Is it because they have plug-and-play discovery and development processes in place? If so, you can know they’re not blowing smoke. If they don’t have good reasons for the speed they’re promising, you can assume they won’t deliver on those promises.

When in doubt, reach out to clients who provided testimonials

Video testimonials are more reliable than written ones because you can actually here from the person themselves (check out our video testimonials here).

But if you’ve been burned in the past, you might struggle to even trust those videos. If that sounds like you, head over to LinkedIn and send the person a message. You can say something like, “Just {read/watched} your testimonial for {X Company}. Would you still recommend them? {Mention something about your project so they know if the company might fit your needs.}

Red flags to watch out for 🛑

If you see these warning signs, head for the virtual door.

You receive a 6- or 7-figure quote

If the first part of the software development company’s sales process is to give you a big fat quote, run.

That’s a surefire sign that the company just wants to close deals and will pitch their services to anyone.

A true software development partner should pitch you a much smaller project to start. For instance, at DevSquad we offer our 4-week Design Sprint service for new products. And when taking over existing products, we often start with an initial feature build to show our skills and make sure everyone is happy. In any case, we charge month-to-month with no long-term contracts, allowing to cancel at any time.

The company doesn’t push back on your ideas

When you’re talking with the rep from the company, do they push back on anything you say? Do they ask smart, probing questions? Or do they just take your word for it.

If so, you’re talking to “yes” men who will nod their heads at your every whim. They’ll build all the features you ask for—leading to a bloated, useless product that costs you hundreds of thousands (or even millions) to build.

The salesperson has no product expertise

If the person selling you the software development services has never been in charge of a team of developers before, you have no way of knowing whether the people you’ll work with will be good at what they do.

Look for a partner with real expertise at all management levels. At DevSquad, you’ll speak directly with our VP team, who are on board to support product managers at every stage.

Ready to build a high-quality product that competes to win in your market? Get a product development squad.

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