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Questions to ask a Software Developer

State-of-the-art software is becoming increasingly indispensable in a whole range of industries. Whether you're using software to manage workflow, record transactional data or as the interface to a large customer database, the more bespoke the software is to your particular company, the more efficient its functionality will be. Hiring a software development company to create a bespoke programme is a process that comes with its own problems - how do you choose between different companies and how can you be certain that your expectations will be met? What questions should you ask prospective companies before making a hiring decision? To some extent this all depends on where they are located, as there is a growing tendency for businesses to outsource their software development overseas. As such, this article deals with two separate fields of questioning: general questions that are relevant to any software development company; and specific questions of relevance to offshore software development companies, where issues of communication and regularity of contact are more important factors.

General Questions to ask a Software Development Company

1. What is the estimated timescale for carrying out the work from conception to installation? Will this include the creation of prototypes and demo versions that I can try out? And will my observations of the prototypes be factored into the final version?

2. Will your research into, and selection of, optimal technologies be influenced by pre-existing relationships with other companies? Or will you start the process free of particular affiliations?

3. How much liaising would be expected while detailed specifications for the project are drawn up? I understand that the software programme will be custom made for me, but how much of a say will I have in the process?

4. How much time do you put into the creation of project documentation? (Such as detailed descriptions of the source code, system architecture and system protocols.) Our in-house IT experts need to follow what is going on.

5. User documentation will be required so the system can be used by employees who are not technically orientated once the software is developed and up and running. Will the users' manual, troubleshooting section, installation guide and FAQ section be written in as clear and easy to follow a language as possible? Is this work done in-house or outsourced to a professional copywriter?

6. What post-installation product support and remote administration services will you be able to offer? Will training be available to ensure that users make the most of the software? Are there any guarantees that you will be on hand to fix any problems that might arise and will you take full responsibility for any problems that do arise?

7. Can the software be upgraded in the future as new technology becomes available? Also, can additional features be implemented as and when they are required and the software reused at a later date for other systems?

8. Can you give guarantees about the security of the site and its resistance to bugs and viruses?

The answers to the previous questions should give you a good picture of how adaptable the software development company is and the level of service, support and security you will receive from them, both in the short- and in the long-term. As you consider the answers to these questions, you should also review the employee turnover, years of tenure and number of contracts of your size the company has previously had. And ask questions about the terms of payment, and whether it is performance related.

Once you have had your questions satisfactorily answered and the software development company seems reliable and adaptable and able to match your requirements, you can go ahead with drawing up a contract. However, if the company is offshore, additional questions come into play that will enable you to assess whether you can work with them and whether they will be able to complete the work to the standard you expect.

Questions to ask an Offshore Development Company

1. Will an project manager be assigned to me as a contact person? Will this contact person be available throughout the time the software is being developed?

2. Will he/she send me a progress report on a daily basis detailing the work that has been completed? What other pieces of information will he/she update me on? Will the progress report include a plan for the week? If I make a request or submit a question, how soon will it be answered?

3. What system of cost tracking do you have to ensure that the software development is completed on time and within budget? If, for any reason there is a delay to the project or it has gone over budget, will I be notified of this development immediately?

4. Does the work you do include any warranties, and are you available for system support and maintenance in the period after the warranty has elapsed?

This article has armed you with twelve critical question areas to present to any software development company you are proposing to hire. Only after they have given their answers will you be able to confidently answer the question of whether to hire them or not. Good luck!

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