Choosing the right web development partner

How often has this happened to you? You have an idea for an online business in your mind. It might be your dream business, the idea you toyed with since graduating from college. You live in uppity Highland Park, Illinois. Lets say, you want to start an online pet food delivery business. Next thing, you call all your friends for a quick brainstorming party. Over rounds of marguerita and sangria, they all sign up for your future online business. Excellent, going great . Summary so far: business idea? Check. Prospective customers? Check. Next step? Get a website. Perfect, you seem to be on track for setting up your dream online business.

It is early August. You go to the neighbourhood web design company. Kevin, the owner and chief designer, has been your high school buddy. He listens to your story and comes up with design samples the next day. They fit in perfectly with what you want. Then he sends his proposal. Ouch! Its about three times more than what you expected. Further, Kevin has just won a big contract for re-doing Maxim’s cover story on their web site. Then he is heading to Poconos for winter. So he will be able to finish your site some time next spring. Ouch, more pain!

Then Jessica from work suggests freelancer.com, an online freelancer’s portal. All you need to do is post your project requirements there. You will receive proposals from freelancers all over the world. You register on Freelancer that very night, and post your project requirements. When you wake up in the morning, you have already received proposals from India, China, Pakistan, the Czech Republic, Ukraine. Moreover, they are about a tenth of what ol’ Kev quoted. Wow! This globalization thing really works!! Next, you square down on Raj from Bangalore. He seems to have earned good money over the last year, has good reviews, and has fairly decent sites in his portfolio. Bingo! You start drawing plans for your IPO.

Raj starts work in earnest. His design team creates the first designs. They are nowhere close to what you have in mind. You tell Raj that you want to be the next Macy’s of the pet food industry, and he sends you back samples which have Walmart written all over it. After the tenth design revision, you give up! You decide to go with the best mock up Raj’s team has done. Unfortunately, it is about a 4/10 on your personal design scale.

The team then starts coding the site. They use a framework called Joomla. Now, you are no babe in the woods when it comes to technology. Yet, the site’s flow just does not seem intuitive. Why would you not have a client register before he goes to the shopping cart? Why does the site freeze up when you have ten office buddies sign on at the same time? Well, you decide to forgo quality for speed.

Now that’s another issue. Raj started development in late fall. Its early spring now. The site is only 75% done. And that too with major functionality-level glitches. Raj has also started missing quite a few of your scheduled weekly appointments. He has lost his project manager to a rival and work really seems to have stalled since then.

Kevin is back from his vacation and asks you how your site is. You have no answer. You ended up spending up more in terms of time, money and efforts with Raj from Bangalore, and eight months later you still don’t have a site. A competitor has gobbled up your prospective clients. And for you, its all been a bad dream. You forget about your dream and get back to selling car insurance. Sounds familiar?

If yes, then you were a victim of the outsourcing myth. The myth states that:

1)      You can pay a tenth of US costs to get a successful website project executed

2)      You can fling a project ten thousand miles away and hope for it to come back as a finished product- even better than what you ever imagined it to be.

3)      Cost is the most important criterion when deciding a partner for developing your site

4)      Developed and developing country quality standards are the same

Lets face it. If outsourcing was as simple as it sounds, we would be living in a perfect world. All the work would have been done in Bangalore. All you would need to do is sign the proposal, send the payment and voila! you would have ended with that dream site.

The reality, though, is far from it. Most outsourcing stories have become tales of late deliveries, over-budget projects, broken promises and time and money spent in chasing the mirage of a low-cost, high quality product.

So what is the solution? The solution is strategic outsourcing. At Avion Technology, we have created a simple checklist to help you determine the vendor for your next project. The list is broadly divided into 3 categories: (1) Vendor Capability (2) Project Management (3) Risk Mitigation.

Please keep this checklist in mind when you are outsourcing your next project, and chances are that you will end with a successful site:

Vendor Capability:

1)      Does your future vendor have references within your geography?

2)      Does your vendor have a representative in your geography, someone you can meet in person if things get shaky?

3)      Does your vendor have domain competency in the platform he/she has decided to use?

4)      Does your vendor have a successful track record and a team that has a history of developing successful projects?

5)      How many successful sites has the vendor launched in the past one year?

6)      Does he adopt any pro-active strategies such as making the site SEO friendly, do his designs adhere to standards such as W3C, XHTML 2?

Project Management:

7)      Do you have a document which clearly scopes out your project requirements?

8)      Does your vendor use any project management methodologies such as PRINCE2 vs PMBOK vs standard Waterfall? Does he have any Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) at all?

9)      Does your vendor use project management strategies like a Project Management tool (Basecamp), a Bug Resolution Tool, a Project Acceptance Metric, a staging server for the project, a desktop sharing application for showing project builds?

10)   Are any aspects of the projects strategic (i.e. content writing, design, analysis) that can be done in-house?

11)   Will the projects have milestones?

12)   Will there be weekly conferences (or builds) when the team will walk you through the work done that week?

Risk Mitigation:

13)   Can the vendor send you photos of his infrastructure?

14)   Does he offer a complimentary support period?

15)   Does he provide maintenance after the support period?

16)   What are the vendor’s server security strategies (strategies to ensure that the staging server does not get hacked)?

17)   Does he have NDAs in place with his employees?

18)   How can he guarantee that the code will be secure?

19)   Who will have final ownership of the code?

20)   Will you get the source code every time you make a payment?

If your future vendor can answer all of these questions satisfactorily, chances are that you have a winning combination on your hands. If most of these questions were answered satisfactorily, you might still want to explore other development teams. If only some or none of these questions were answered satisfactorily, you might want to give ol’ Kev a phone call.

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Avion Technology is a downtown Chicago based web-development company. Avion Technology has its own development and delivery center in India, managed by American citizens. Combining high design and quality standards with outsourcing best-practices, Avion Technology helps deliver quality web sites to its clients.  To know more about Avion Technology, please visit www.aviontechnology.net.

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