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How to choose a development shop to bring your digital campaigns to life

How to choose a development shop to bring your digital campaigns to life

Richard Stobart, managing director and founder of Unboxed Consulting gives his top tips for choosing a development shop that will lead to quick results and a close lasting relationship.

Recruiting a software development firm to create marketing sites can be a difficult process.  Much like finding a mechanic you trust, word of mouth and previous experiences are often the major contributors to the selection process.
The whole thing is made all the more difficult by the mysterious nature of software development – just as you may not know the finer details of internal combustion engines.
The problem, in the eyes of some marketers, is that development has become a necessary evil in marketing on so many levels, whether it is Flash development for a single advertising asset, a micro-site or a mobile app for an iPhone.

This led to many agencies bringing some form of web/software development in-house, but the costs associated with this make it uneconomical for many, especially if the team is not working at full utilisation.

The other challenge for internal teams is that unless they have specialists it is difficult to keep a skill set current across so many technologies, as well as the cost of putting an infrastructure in place to support a development project.

For most agencies this means sub-contracting development resource, as needed, is often the best option. How do you judge whether a development shop is the right one for you, and to be perfectly frank make sure you are not going to get ripped off in terms of cost or quality, especially when you need something fast?
We’ve been working with agencies for several years on projects to support campaigns for a broad range of clients, in the UK and internationally.

In that time I’ve heard quite a few horror stories, so here some tips things to look for in a development shop that will help you pick the right company for a long-standing relationship, once you’ve got that word of mouth shortlist together.
1. Speak to existing customers

Quite often development shops are sub-contracted when they work for marketing or advertising agencies, so you won’t necessarily be able to see which customers they have worked for on the website.  But you should ask to be put in touch with agencies they have worked for or other case studies that you have seen on the website.

2. Ask about “Agile Methodologies”

Software development contracts have changed a lot in recent years and a new approach called Agile lends itself really well to the way marketing and advertising agencies operate – which is at speed. Teams are made up of people from the agency and development shop work closely together.

The stakeholders, including your customers, get together every two weeks (a project iteration) for a status update, where progress is reviewed and the features (called stories) that will be implemented over the next iteration agreed.  I’m simplifying the process for brevity, but it allows teams to move quickly, react to change and start delivering working software very early in the project.
3. Billing transparency

Understand in detail the way the project will be billed, as often there is small print that leads to additional costs.  Time and materials (T&M) is a common approach used by development shops but this is very open ended, and whilst a cap can be agreed, or fixed cost used instead, these are not motivation for either party in the long run.

 In my experience, an approach that works very well in Agile development is a mixture of T&M and fixed cost. In this model the risk is shared equally – the supplier achieves a better margin if they are more efficient and customer costs are limited by the agreed iteration scope, which they can change at every iteration, to manage the project spend.

4. Look at the development process

Does the development agency have a process that they can demonstrate to you? Does the process fit within your processes? Does it include testing?  How are changes to scope addressed?
5. Ask about maintenance costs.

Once an asset has been delivered it is very likely that you will want it modified in the future in some way either because it wasn’t quite right for the client or a feature needs to be added.  This is where many software development shops have excessive charges, and if this is not something that you have negotiated at the beginning of your relationship, they really have you over a barrel.

6. Excitement is key

Meet the whole development team that would work on your projects, not just the project leaders.

Sitting in a room of geeks might sound like hell, but its important to feel the developers are excited about what they are going to be doing for you, in exactly the same way that you get the best out of your creative team through their excitement for a project, software development is creative engineering!  Developers need to be inspired to do their best work.

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