Seven Steps to App Happiness

From marketing agencies to software houses, overseas operations to individual developers in their bedrooms, there are now a whole host of different organisations that offer app development.  Not only do these businesses offer a variety of services, they also offer a sliding scale of capability from the very good to the downright bad.

So how do you find the one that’s right for you? We’ve put together a seven-point guide which will hopefully help you avoid choosing the wrong developer for your project.

Does the development company offshore their work or use freelancers? Many companies do to save money on development. However this can be dangerous for you. Apart from adding in another party to the equation, you can’t be sure how well written the code will be and what language it will be documented in! Our advice is to be wary of anyone that uses offshoring companies and do this by going to see their developers. A visit to their offices can also be a great way to gauge whether they are right for you.

Buy cheap, buy twice
It’s very tempting to buy the cheapest quote you have but is it the wisest thing to do? Some developers will under-price jobs to get the work but then can’t deliver (or go into liquidation) leaving the client out of pocket without an app. Apps take time to develop; ask for the hours the developer intends to spend on the app and compare the time against other quotes. It should be obvious who is under-quoting. Also, before you engage with them, ask to see their management figures. Look at their annual reports on Companies House; that should give you a good idea of how well they are managing their finances.

Soup-to-nuts service?
Can the development partner you choose actually do everything you need them to do? Can they advise on your mobile ecosystem and your mobile roadmap? Do they understand the difference between Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM)? Can they give you good advice on the app you should develop? Will they give you a detailed quote for the work? Can they develop a functional design spec. that you can sign off before the developers get started? Do they have good User eXperience (UX) and User Interface (UI) specialists? Do they have the back-office development skills needed to integrate your app with your legacy systems? Do they understand app analytics? Do they host and deploy? Can they advise on how you should market your app and how to continually evaluate how it’s doing?

Any previous experience?
A good way to choose a developer is to look at their previous work. Have they technically done what you want them to do? Do they understand your industry? Are their previous apps as good as you want yours to be? Ask for some references from their clients – are they an easy company to deal with? Do they have project managers? Was it a professional experience? Would they use them again?

Failure to plan
Many apps end up in the bin because the development company and the client fail to plan exactly what they want. A good developer should take you through a planning and design cycle. This will usually result in a Functional Design Spec. (FDS) that you should be asked to sign off. If your app uses any web services for its data then it’s a good idea to get the developer to look at these before the project starts.
Never pay up front
It’s a fairly obvious one this but companies still do it. If your development company wants money up front,beware! You should insist that your project is broken up into a series of iterations, each of which should be delivered in full before you pay the invoice. You should also make sure you agree to own the code at the end of the project; ideally, insist it is sent to you straight after you pay your last invoice. You should never have to pay extra to own the code. Make sure you write this into your contract. And make sure you have a contract that includes a statement of work for every app you work on.

The cross-platform nirvana
There are a few development companies who are pushing a cross-platform nirvana; that is, develop once, roll out across every mobile platform. Simply put, this doesn’t work. Or more accurately, it’s unlikely to give you what you’re expecting. Choosing whether to go native (an app that resides on the phone) or HTML5 (an app that sits on the web) or something in-between is a complex question with many answers, and largely depends on budget, target market, the functionality of the app and your brand equity. If this is not discussed in detail, start to worry.

Hopefully these points will help you from making a very expensive mistake. There are some very good app developers out there and we hope this will go some way in helping you find them.

Mark Mason is founder & CEO of Mubaloo

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