More and more founders are discovering the unique advantages of working with external development teams to deliver their products to market. But finding the right partner is not always easy. There are a growing number of product development firms in the market, and quality can vary significantly. So how do you know which one is right for you?
A good development team will have relevant industry experience and positive testimonials from their clients and employees. You should be able to narrow down a list of potential partners by reviewing their case studies, services, and products they have built in the past. Once you have a shortlist of potential teams, there are a few key signs to keep an eye out for that can help you reduce risk and keep your product launch on track. Below are five positive signals—and a few red flags—that can help you evaluate and hire a great team.
1. They were recommended by someone you trust.
Asking your network for recommendations is one of the best ways to start any hiring process, and finding an external development team is no different. Reach out to people in the tech community and ask them if they have worked with a good external development team. A referral from a trusted source gives you an opportunity to ask questions, learn, and understand any potential downsides before they pose a risk to your business.
Beware of product teams that can’t provide references from well-known or high-growth companies. They should have credible products in the market that can give you a sense of their work and experience. Another red flag to watch for is teams that send frequent cold emails. This can indicate a quantity over quality approach to development.
2. They are transparent about who you will work with.
A great development team will insist on open, frequent, and direct communication. You should know who your team will be ahead of kicking off the project, including their responsibilities and how much time they will be spending working with you each week. Strong teams use shared communication channels so you can speak directly to the full team. They use these channels to share daily summaries so everyone has visibility of their progress.
Beware of teams that don’t put you in touch directly with their engineers. If you’re only speaking with an account manager, important details can be lost and you may end up with a team that lacks the experience to build your product.
3. They are realistic and honest about what to expect.
A strong development partner will have a detailed and comprehensive project plan—but they should also build in flexibility to make changes along the way. Requirements and scope are guaranteed to change, and things that appear easy may end up being hard or vice versa. As a result, you should expect to see project estimates in ranges, and charges should be in time and materials.
One of the biggest red flags, which can often be hard to spot, is teams that make false promises about what they can deliver. Beware of teams that say yes to everything and maintain the original timeline even as the scope of your project increases. Watch out for fixed-price quotes. They can be misleading since timelines can stray from an early estimation.
4. They show visible progress each week.
Once your project has kicked off, you should see frequent demos and live progress. Even very complex projects can show progress from as soon as two or three weeks in. A strong team will give you direct access to their work and keep you informed about how they are tracking toward project completion.
Beware of teams that share cryptic updates that are difficult to tie back to your business goals. Knowing that a team migrated data from one system to another might sound impressive, but it could be covering for the fact that no material progress has been made. If the team hasn’t built anything new for a few weeks in a row, your product is likely to be delayed.
5. You are the owner of your accounts and code.
Unless you explicitly ask for it, there is no reason for a development team to hold your code in their own code repository. You should own all the code and IP related to your project from the get-go. A great team will help you set up all third-party accounts and services under your own company domain and enable two-factor authentication for security.
Beware of teams that set up software accounts under their own emails or company domain. There’s no good reason you should not have access to your own code and accounts.
Selecting a great product development team can be challenging, but once you find a trusted partner with the right technical expertise, you can have your project up and running in a matter of weeks. In fact, speed is one of the main benefits of working with external product teams. Take the time to find a partner you feel confident in—it will save you valuable time, and give you the peace of mind of knowing your project is in good hands.
Co-Founder and CEO of Fluxon, a global product development company that helps startups build and launch their product to market.