What Matters When Choosing a Software Company?

I recently asked over 500 professionals what mattered most to them when choosing a software development company, and the results were so unsettling I had to dig in deeper and dissect.

Why are you choosing software developers anyway?

It’s no wonder that many development companies are bidding high for the keywords “custom software development,” it’s a hot search.

But what prompts a person to search for software developers anyway? Why choose an outside firm rather than hire a recruiter or seek to insource developers directly?

In my experience, the search for a software development company is typically preceded by an idea for bringing a product to market (where “market” can also include developing a product for internal use or business workflow automation).

Armed with an idea, the logical next step is to find somebody who can bring it to life. So you turn to the outside because you don’t already employ developers, or the developers you do employ are bogged down with other initiatives.

But is hiring a developer the right next step?

Product-Market Fit doesn’t matter

Only 13% of participants indicated that product-market fit mattered when choosing a software development company, which got me wondering, “does it?

I suppose one interpretation is that product-market fit isn’t the job of the developer, and therefore isn’t as relevant as clean code (which happened to be the second most popular response).

Another interpretation is that product-market fit simply doesn’t matter at all. Or maybe not everyone beyond the bay has fully embraced that Silicon Valley catchphrase?

Product-Market Fit is just a fancy way of saying, “I’ve created a product that people want (and can prove it).”

The bottom line is that whatever you call it, product-market fit matters a lot and having a team that understands that goal and can contribute to it should matter a lot.

Product-Market Fit is the difference between building product as an exercise in wasting money vs. building product as an exercise in making money.

Most software development companies can develop software. Some are better than others. Some cost more than others. But there’s much more involved in executing an idea that works.

If you’re embarking down the path of product development without the support of a cross-functional team that understands the business of product, you may have already selected the wrong software development company.

Other stuff that doesn’t matter

Unsurprisingly, “diversity” ranked lowest among the reasons for choosing a software development company.

Speaking as the female founder of a software company, that only confirms there’s more work to do in demonstrating the value that differing lived experiences bring to any project. Especially when validating ideas with real, diverse customers!

What was heartening to see was that “cost of development” and “on-time delivery” also ranked low. This gives me hope to see that the seams of “faster, cheaper” are at long last starting to show.

What matters most

The top two answers to my survey were “clean code” and “bug free product.” Combined they represented 50% of total responses.

I found this result to be the most curious of all.

First, how many people are actually willing and able to assess code-cleanliness when evaluating software development partners?

In over ten years of servicing clients and hundreds of products built, we’ve never once had a client ask to look under the hood (though we’ve been engaged often to audit the work of other developer teams).

If “clean code” (which by definition should be relatively bug-free) is so important, shouldn’t there be a check for this in the courting phase? How would you assess this?

And why does clean code matter to so many people?

Certainly I can appreciate the negative effect that unstable product can have on my user experience, but any moreso than products lacking “beautiful design” (which incidentally ranked just above diversity)?

Clean code or “steady state” is an important product aspiration to be sure – but is it an attribute of success? Is it really the most important thing?

Product is an investment. In fact one way to assess whether you’re ready for developing product isn’t whether or not you have an idea, but to consider whether you’re ready to keep investing in getting the idea right?

In fact, there’s dozens of low-cost methods for punting bad ideas well before the step of choosing a software development company and the cost of writing code.

If you have a great idea, try instead to find a good partner with cross-functional expertise and an experimental approach to product development.

Is there an unmissable opportunity you want to pursue?

Schedule a free hour of confidential consulting and see if we can help.

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