In the same way that no development agency is the perfect fit for every client, no client is the perfect fit for every development agency.
There are steps to take to make your projects much more appealing, however.
Here’s how you can tell whether your enterprise is a good fit for an outsourced development agency — and what you can do to improve, if not.
A Well-Defined Problem
The first thing every development partner looks for is a well-defined problem.
“Clients with a clearly defined issue are a much more attractive proposition,” says Randy Costner, head of engineering at Kingsmen Software. It’s hard to accurately quote for projects that are poorly defined. What’s more, a lack of clarity can also cause issues during the discovery phase of a project.
Problems that aren’t well-understood only serve to create more problems, says Henrico Dolfing, interim management and product recovery specialist. “In fact, there’s no guarantee the solutions will address the problem at all,” Dolfing says. “Conversely, the more we understand the problem, the more likely we understand the root cause and can create countermeasures so the problem won’t recur.”
Ultimately, a clearly defined problem provides direction, inspiration and guidance for everyone working on the project.
There also needs to be a budget to fix that problem. A budget is important for more than just monetary reasons, says Jennifer Bridges, PMP, founder of PDUs2Go.com. “The budget is the engine that drives your project’s funding. It communicates to stakeholders how much money is needed and when it’s needed.”
It also defines the projects and helps set out a plan.
For some, budgetary questions may come after a problem has been defined, but here at Kingsmen Software those questions go hand-in-hand. That’s because we work together with our clients to clarify business and software problems before committing to development. Without a sufficient budget, it’s hard to have the discussions needed to proceed.
One of the biggest roadblocks to a successful enterprise-agency relationship is misaligned expectations.
Both sides have a responsibility to set realistic expectations, says Matt Bowman, president of Thrive Internet Marketing Agency. “Expectations, on both sides, are important for setting standards, benchmarks and for being able to evaluate progress.”
Specifically, though, enterprises must have realistic expectations about the efforts they’re required to make. They need to be “accountable for providing timely and thorough information that enables their agency to work effectively on their behalf,” he says.
Coming to the table with unrealistic expectations is something of a pink flag. “Many unrealistic expectations can be overcome with discussions during the onboarding and discovery phases,” says Bill Clerici, CEO and partner at Kingsmen Software. But it can be hard for those early discussions to last the entire length of the working relationship — especially if the client fails to take them on board.
This isn’t a case of development partners trying to drag projects out or request additional resources. Pushing your agency to work to tight timelines isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can even create new processes. But genuinely unrealistic expectations will always require additional discussions.
Enterprises should enter agency discussions with a level head, which can often mean revising potentially unrealistic expectations. This starts with understanding what’s driving them in the first place, says Ketan Jahagirdar, director of project management at Sopheon.
“Client expectations are driven by one of three things: past experience, pressures they are facing and inexperience,” Jahagirdar says. “Document the scope of work and focus on seeking clarity on the outcome. After that, discussions on timelines and cost become a little easier.”
Open and Transparent Communication
Development partners seek out enterprises that are open and transparent about their wants, needs, concerns and expectations from the very beginning.
“Transparency reigns supreme in successful client-agency relationships,” writes Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and cofounder of Bullseye Strategy. One of the most important things transparency can help avoid is scope creep — something both enterprises and agencies want to avoid.
“While scopes of work can never capture every detail of an agency's strategy, they can act as a general guide for the services and the number of hours allotted to the partnership,” Schwartz writes.
“Alignment in exactly what's covered within the scope of work permits clients to prioritize their deliverables and allows agencies to set a reasonable expectation of what will be completed by the end of the month.”
Knowledge sharing is also essential for tempering unrealistic expectations or potential biases, says Scott Taft, senior lead of business intelligence and analytics at Seer Interactive. “Whether it’s getting little hints about the company’s direction or exact monthly goals they are trying to hit, the more information an agency has the better aligned they will be and therefore all the more valuable to the client,” Taft writes.
“Transparency should come from the agency as well. A client should never feel in the dark about a strategy or the performance of a project.”
Communication and transparency go hand in hand. This is why development partners also look for clients who are good communicators. Poor communication comes in two forms, says Albizu García, CEO and cofounder of GAIN app. It can be over-communication or under-communication.
“If the client is over communicating, which happens often, it can mean they do not trust the agency and are therefore micromanaging,” he says. “If the agency is under-communicating, it can mean there is a problem they do not want to report or that certain tasks aren’t being performed.”
Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good, Though
You don’t need to be the perfect client to work with an outsourced development company.
Having a grasp of your problems, reasonable expectations and a commitment to transparent communication makes you a better fit, but you don’t need to have perfected any of these characteristics.
One benefit of working with a development agency is that they can help you define your problems or set realistic expectations. Taking the initiative not only serves to make you more attractive to prospective development agencies; it ultimately makes your project more successful.