As a Product Manager, sooner or later you might need to outsource some or all of your software design or development to an external vendor. To get you started, here are some key considerations when choosing a software vendor, based on my experience on both the client and the vendor side.
A few years ago, I worked as a software manager for a systems integration company. As part of my role, I worked closely with Sales to pitch our services to prospective clients. We had it down. We knew how to present ourselves and touch on all the emotional and technical needs of our potential clients.
Not long after, I was in need of hiring a vendor to help me architect our next generation software. The roles were reversed! And it made me think about how we presented ourselves and, in essence, reflect on what makes a good software vendor.
As a Product Manager, sooner or later you might find yourself in the same situation. You might need some user-centered research or some UX design. Or maybe you’ll be looking to expand your product to a mobile platform and don’t have the chops in-house to do so. To get you started, here are some key considerations when looking at vendors, based on my experience on both the client and the vendor side.
What type of vendor do you need?
Before launching into your search, have a clear understanding of what you are after. Is this a development project? Is it web or mobile? Do you need UX help? Are you after content or documentation? Are you looking for long-term support? The nature of your project will determine the type of vendor you need. These days vendors are very specialized, and you’ll be best served by going with somebody that has the right skill set. Some vendors present themselves as a “one-stop shop,” so if your project has a variety of needs, these vendors might be the best option since it’s easier to manage a single vendor. Keep in mind that these vendors might cover the whole spectrum and all platforms known to man, but most likely they are stronger in some areas and weaker in others. Make sure you get a real feel for where their strengths are.
What type of deliverable are you after?
Your needs might be different depending on where you are in the software life cycle. You might have an abstract idea for a new product and are looking for somebody to help you shape what that could be. This is often called a “vision piece”. And it can help you launch your development, get you funding, or serve as a basis for user research. On the other hand, you might need help understanding your current users or coming up with ideas for new features. You might need good-old development, and you expect tested code or a prototype as your deliverable. By understanding the type of deliverable, you can narrow down possible vendors, and you can also get an idea of the duration and cost of the engagement. If you are new to a specific space (i.e. design) don’t be afraid to ask for explicit examples of the deliverables you’ll get. Make sure those deliverables are something your internal team is able to consume so you don’t have to always depend on the vendor.
Local or remote?
Software design and development vendors can certainly work remotely. Granted, it will always be better to have a local vendor, but that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker anymore. By looking outside your vicinity, you might have better luck at accessing top talent in your desired area of expertise. If you go the remote route, keep in mind that managing them might be more involved. And there might be a time difference you’ll need to account for, especially if outsourcing development to India or China.
Get executive support (i.e. budget).
As obvious as this sounds, this point is often overlooked. Contracting a vendor will require budget, so make sure you have access to cash if you want to go this route. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Product Managers reach out to agencies and get proposals, only to get the smack-down from management and find out that the project will be handled internally or won’t be handled at all.
Continue to Part 2.