The question of whether to outsource your mobile development comes down to your in-house capabilities at that point in your business life-cycle.
Many companies outsource development to gain a better understanding of the mobile development processes. During this period, they are also able to better spot relevant skills required for their own in-house hiring.
It is vital that you address the following before approaching a development company:
- Know the app’s objective (e.g. to act as an alternative shopping platform) and features it MUST have (e.g. an e-commerce cart).
- Differentiate between ‘mandatory’ vs ‘extra’ features. Stick to the lean Minimum Viable Product approach when building in initial phases to reduce complexity and keep costs down. Then build incrementally in consequent phases.
- Do thorough research on vendors, their clients and products across all app stores.
- Download and critique vendors’ apps (especially if they are specific to your industry). Note stand-out features that you may adopt. Take note of app reviews as they can reflect quality and overall functionality.
- Prepare a concise one-page proposal summarizing the above. You should only approach a vendor when you have a clear idea of the app, its purpose and features required to meet this.
Scouting vendors is a tricky process. Quality mobile products are expensive to build and support, but maintenance is just as important. Take the time to choose the right vendor you can build a long-term trusted relationship with.
When in discussion with vendors, be mindful of the following:
Seek maximum transparency with costings and breakdowns. Be wary if companies are charging less than their competitors as this is often reflective of development quality.
Settle for a fee and payment term that covers support and frequent communication, as this will improve app quality over time. I would recommend vendors who offer a ‘30-day money back guarantee’ approach in their payment terms as it reflects their confidence in development and servicing.
Product and service offerings
Understand the infrastructure (hosting environment, maintenance etc) and product types (customized vs. standard apps) as well as tiers of servicing offered. Find out how app updates and subsequent versions are published as well as the number of revisions/updates allowed and any costs associated with this.
Some companies use collaboration tools such as Basecamp or ProofHub to involve customers with the product development journey. Self-service client dashboards are useful as they provide the customer control over daily activities and updates, such as merchandising and push alerts.
Ideally, you should choose a company offering a ‘full stack’ approach. Encompassing development and testing to support, analytics and maintenance.
The initial meeting with your potential vendor should highlight each step of the development and post-development processes. Clarify your roles and responsibilities such as building Web services for data feeds, security and performance testing. Ensure that your vendor is not outsourcing/offshoring parts of your mobile development.
Investigate the process for pulling back development with your vendor if you choose to do so in the future. The product and knowledge transfer around transition is worth a thorough investigation.
Post-meeting, observe the vendor’s responsiveness and commitment in follow-up communication. A good vendor checks in with their potential and existing customers to keep them in the loop of latest news and tools to help them get more value out of their products.
It is important to raise questions around timing during your initial meeting. Ask vendors how long their development projects normally last and how many projects they take on at any one time. . This should include app submission times to stores, iTunes takes 4–7 days while Google Play allows for almost instant uploads.
The vendor should clearly communicate their timescales and priorities in their pipeline when working out a firm start and deadline for your project with you.
The vendor and yourself should sign a non-disclosure agreement or a written contract around copyright assignment. This should state your ownership of the app, source code and its contents. Do not miss this step as it is particularly crucial if your app holds business IP or customized features.
Test mobile apps across different platforms, screen sizes and operating system versions to ensure consistency across all devices. This is an area not to be compromised as it reflects product quality.
Get your vendor to explain their beta-testing process and bug/feedback solutions, ask how quickly they fix bugs that found.
User Experience and design
A crucial filter when finding the right vendor is in their design capabilities, i.e. in understanding UI, UX and responsive design. Check their team structure and look for front-end developer/UX design experience.
I would opt for a vendor who understands the importance of simplicity and reflects this in the development journey for clients as well as in their products.
Finding the ideal vendor to work with on your mobile app project can be a lengthy process. However it’s worth spending this initial time to ensure your fantastic idea is crafted by the right team and saves you time and money in the long run.
What are your experiences with vendors for app development? What processes have they used you were impressed with?
Currently based in Melbourne, Katrina is a brand strategist who previously worked in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and London. Her days are spent at EdTech startup Ediply and also in freelance brand and business development consulting for various tech startups and SMEs.