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October 12, 2010

Is your web developer qualified?

Filed under: Website Development, Your Business — Mike Jaltuch @ 7:38 am

Most people hire web development companies for the same reason we hire an auto mechanic or go to a doctor, because we are in need of their expertise that we ourselves lack knowledge of. In most fields we use a common sense approach to determine if the expert is qualified to fulfill our needs. For example, we are not going to ask our eye doctor about a pain we have in our foot and we probably won’t go to the oil change shop for a new transmission. We do the same with scope size. For example most people would not want a nurse to do open heart surgery, or someone who has experience in building houses to build a 25 story office building.

However with web development there seems to be much less common sense screening happening when a web site / web application is needed. My assumption is because there is a much lower level of common knowledge about programming when compared to other fields. As a result I have seen a few common mistakes over the years in the criteria that people use when selecting a website development vender. Below are two of the most common examples:

#1 – Using what you understand as the main decision factor, even if what you understand is mostly irrelevant in the project.

A good example if this is design. I frequently see companies looking to have a complex web application developed and typically in this case a design is needed but it’s usually less than 5% of the time spent on the entire project. Of course this 5% is a very important part but it’s still a very small minority of the overall project. However, for someone who has no understanding of development they may tend to gravitate to the design since they do understand it and select a vendor solely on the merits of their design ability.

The result is a great design but the actual application may not work very well or be riddled with bugs. Or worse yet, end up being well above the skill level of the vendor resulting in a project that is doomed from day one.

#2 – Using the industry of your business as the single criteria for selecting a vender.

An example of this is a lawn servicing company that may want to set up an online system for their clients to manage all levels of service. When looking at prospective web development companies they are only searching for those who have multiple clients in the lawn service industry. This is similar to a law firm wanting a new building so they only look at builders who have built offices for law firms.

A better approach would be to try and determine the level of complexity needed for the project. Then only look at companies who have developed at least three web applications at the same or greater level of complexity as the desired project. It’s much easier to learn a few details of any specific industry that may be helpful in a project compared to gaining the development skills and experience necessary for architecting and developing the project.

The lesson is to step out of your comfort zone and try to apply some of the common sense logic we use elsewhere in our lives to our web development projects.