From the time we take our first quiz in school, we learn that success often requires us to come up with the right answer.
Sometimes, however, it’s not about the answer. Instead, success can depend on asking the right question.
That is certainly the case when it comes time to choose a technology partner for your next development project. It is a crucial decision, determining which company will be working side by side with yours for an extended period of time, building systems that your customers and staff will depend on well beyond the development period.
To make the right choice, you need to ask good questions. To help you do that, I’ve listed five key questions for potential technology partners — the kinds of questions I hope a potential client will ask me before we start work together:
1. What don’t I understand about this project or this technology?
This is a good place to start. It allows a technology vendor to demonstrate his or her expertise and, simultaneously, gives you a glimpse of how your relationship could work throughout the project.
A good vendor will make sure the client knows what he needs to know and knows the questions that need to be asked as planning begins. If the vendor’s answer helps you make a good decision on the scope of the project, the approach you will take or the resources needed to develop it, he has done well.
2. What do you see as the core goals for this project?
The answer you are looking for here is most likely a basic one, such as “Helping more of your customers apply for loans easily.” There will be many intermediary goals you and the vendor set up, and some of those may well change as work gets underway. But you need simple goals to guide you through the entire process.
3. How often will I get status reports? How will they work?
Like any relationship, a technology partnership requires good communication. And “good” in most cases means “regular” and “predictable.”
The iterative, consultative style of development that I believe gets best results thrives on frequent updates and appraisals of where the project stands and what reasonably can get done in the near term. This information allows you to make smart adjustments to the plan based on what developers learn as they’re working. And they always learn something new about a project in the middle of it.
4. What’s the worst piece of news you have had to tell a previous client? How did you do it?
No one wants to deliver bad news. But every vendor has had to do it at one point or another. If the company you’re considering can’t answer this question, beware.
When something goes wrong, your vendor needs to let you know and explain how it will be fixed as soon as possible. A development project near completion — or launches — and then surprises you with problems is a headache at best , a disaster at worst.
There are a lot of people who will try to hide bad news. Don’t let the vendor you hire be one of them.
5. When can you start?
I don’t advise asking this question of every vendor. But if you interview one who answers the four preceding questions well, you may very well be asking it soon.