As a client, deciding to work with a tech partner can be an arduous task filled with many variables and unknowns. There are obvious boxes that you need to check to make sure that you find an outfit proficient in your tech toolset, and those are relatively easy to suss out — at least on the surface. But then you quickly get into trying to figure out whether a tech partner is going to be a good fit from the standpoint of cost, competence, and commitment.
To me, competence and commitment are going to be the main determinants of cost. The only gauge of cost that you are going to have up front is usually an hourly rate, which can give you somewhat of an apples to apples comparison amongst different shops. But the true cost you’re looking to determine is what you are going to spend over time to get your project(s) completed successfully. To figure that out, you need to understand how willing and able a tech partner is to work with your company: namely how committed are they to your success and how competent are they to expose the hidden flaws — those things that are easy to miss — which will save you countless hours in the long run.
So how do you determine a partner’s level of commitment and competence? To me, you have to be looking for that as soon as you first interview a potential partner. Circumstances are always different, but tech projects today are so involved, and learning curves are so steep, that even if you are interviewing a partner for just a single project, you should contemplate what it would be like to have this partner for a long time. So during that process, I would be trying to determine:
- How well is the partner really grasping the nuances of your project? Are they tracking closely with your description?
- Are their questions on point? Are their questions pertinent to the success of the project and to you as the client? Or are they bringing up items that might be peripheral to the project, that might be meant to pad their hours without providing much value to you?
- Have they made suggestions to simplify the process?
- If they are really an expert in your tech stack, they probably know the internal workings better than you do. Have they suggested a way to use the internal functionality already present to solve your needs (leaving you less dependent on the partner in the long run), or are they pushing you needlessly toward custom solutions (trying to keep you on the hook for longer)?
The more that you can find ways to cover these types of questions before choosing a partner, or be able to suss them out in the early stages of working with a new partner, the more likely you will be able to determine the long term viability of that partnership.
Today, your website is the lifeblood of your business, and the way that you are going to be successful is if your tech partner can understand your business and not just your tech stack. This means that you need to be able to talk to your tech partner in business terms and not just tech terms.
What is the “why” behind this project? What is the driving business need? Chances are your management has tasked you with solving a business problem and not necessarily a tech problem. The tech is just a means to that end. To me it would be a real mistake to not tell your prospective partner what the business is trying to achieve.
You need to be able to spell this out and be open to the fact that your prospective tech partner may have a better path for you to achieve your goal. And this is where you can tell whether a prospective partner is just wanting to work for you or work with you.
If they merely want to work FOR you, then they’ll take your specs and give you a price. They’ll do the job to the minimum requirements and you’ll be on their client list, but it will probably end up meeting their needs more than yours.
If they want to work WITH you — and be a real partner — then they will make suggestions that add value, look for less expensive ways to achieve the same goal, use functionality already built into your stack, or propose something that adds value for you and your company.
You are trying to look into that crystal ball and figure out that six, or twelve, months down the road, after the inevitable twists and turns that are going to occur in your business, will this partner have helped you navigate those turns to come out unscathed, or better yet, ahead? Or are they just along for the ride, doing what you ask, but not actively working to make you and your business thrive.
In order to figure out what your costs are going to be over the long run, you really need to figure out how committed a partner is to your success and how competent they are to get you there. A good tech partner values their role as a partner, not just a vendor, and they need to demonstrate that to you. They should be in the game with you, interested in making you a success as much as making their own business a success.
About John Paul Uva —
John Paul has been a long-time Oshyn client when he was the VP of Technology for Audio Digest which is owned by Learners Digest International, a division of Wolters Kluwer. Over the past twenty-odd years, he has led technology staffs for various different information providers, has built loads of websites, and has worked with more CMSes than he cares to remember — although Sitecore is his favorite.