August 06, 2020   |   5min read

How to Approach Negotiations with a Development Agency?

Narrow down your search for a development agency

First, you should know a bit about your project: what do you want to build (mobile or web app, embedded systems, a cloud solution), who are your users, what functions, programming language or tools you need (especially if you’re tech-savvy). You might also need to establish how advanced the technology should be—perhaps you’re working on a finance app, that is bound by some law regulations in terms of security, or you need to rely on excellent, native UI elements. Knowing the above-mentioned factors will significantly improve your chances to find the right development agency and help you narrow down your options.

You might think choosing a perfect tech partner is pretty straightforward. If you want a mobile app, you look for a vendor experienced in mobile app development. If you want your tool to be developed in Python, you check the vendor’s experience in this language. And you’re not entirely wrong. However, be careful not to fall into the trap—working with a specific technology/industry/platform can be a good reference point, but limiting your options solely to someone with a narrow experience can leave you with an excessively short shortlist.

A project manager at the meeting.

Don’t try to find a unicorn

Perhaps a development agency doesn’t need to have the exact same project you’re working on in their portfolio. Just because they haven’t worked on e.g. a medical app that sends push notifications reminding users to take their medication, doesn’t mean they don’t have technical experience and knowledge to deliver this specific user value. Perhaps they’ve done something similar, just for a different industry. Or maybe what you’re really after in your project is data security or BLE connectivity, that they excel at.

The same goes for specific technologies—if you want to deliver a project in e.g. Flutter do you know why? A good development agency will help you determine whether your choice of technology is valid, or is it better to deliver your project in, let’s say, React Native.

Consider if the value you want to deliver strictly depends on using the technology of your choice. If so, definitely check their portfolio for relevant experience. If not—perhaps you may be more flexible with your criteria. If they can deliver your product using a different tool, should you really miss out on the opportunity to work with a great tech expert? Looking for a development agency that has done the exact same thing as your product in terms of idea, platform, tools and programming language AND fits your schedule and budget is like a unicorn hunt.

How to investigate the experience of a development agency during negotiations?

Ask for their recommendations regarding the right way to do your project—and always ask them WHY they recommend it. It might happen that a development agency will try to push for a tech that they know, or have availability for. A good partner will try to help you figure out the best way of delivering your product—also if it means doing it in a technology that they do not provide. They’ll simply recommend what’s best for your project. Of course, it’s sometimes impossible to talk in depth about a project at such an early stage.

Ask about their experience in a given platform, technology and functions. Remember to also ask them to specify how those aspects were applied to their projects. For example, if they’ve done an IoT project, was it a smartwatch for a fitness industry—which is what you’re looking for? Or if you’re after native mobile app development, have they done it before, or all the apps in their portfolio are cross-platform?

Remember that a good portfolio is not everything—sometimes, a style of cooperation is equally important. For this reason, during negotiations, remember to check the development agency’s way of working and delivering a product. Does it meet your preferences? How involved do you want to be in the project development process? Do you feel like your values align?

Lastly, a style of negotiation itself will tell you a lot about how a development agency interacts with their clients. At Polidea, for example, we always try to understand why a client needs a certain technology—what is the motivation behind it, is it substantiated. Then we discuss the possible scenarios, what can be adjusted, what works better, and how we can help the project. If you’re dealing with a good development agency you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if they know what they are doing, if they are honest and care about your project.

Two project managers sitting at the desk, listening.

What constitutes a good discovery conversation?

During the discovery conversation, a good development agency will dig deep. They should, among others:

  • show interest in your project’s scope, your unique value, the context of your product, and what problems it solves,
  • ask you about the market you’re targeting, if there are other similar products already out there,
  • ask you what stage of development you are at,
  • ask about your timeline to establish if and when they can take on the project and deliver it,
  • estimate your budget—at this stage it will be a very rough estimate but it will help you decide on the cooperation. Preparing a detailed estimation is difficult, takes a lot of time and resources, and is sometimes impossible to do— therefore most development agencies don’t get into it in the discovery phase,
  • want to know about your preferred approach to cooperation and will tell you about their processes. They can, of course, adjust to your needs, but within reason—they probably have some practices they are willing to negotiate, and some they want to stick to, same as you,
  • leave you with clearly established next steps and deadlines.

What should you expect to end up in the offer?

First, you should know what you want to receive in an offer—this is to be determined by what criteria you compare the offers from different development agencies. If you’re not a tech person, this part might get tricky. We touched on the subject of how to choose the right tech partner in a previous blog post. A good development agency will tell you how they usually approach estimates and ask you about your needs. Whether you agreed on a detailed estimate or a ballpark, a development agency should deliver it to you.

This stage of the negotiations also shows how the developers will approach your project and its functionalities—what potential problems they can foresee and how they would solve them. You will know their level of expertise and professionalism.

Lastly, the thing with negotiations and choosing the right tech partner is that you will never be able to tell 100 percent how the collaboration will work out before you kick-off. However, these talks are a great place to get the general feeling of the level of compatibility with a development agency, their approach to business, professionalism, and relevant experience.

Piotr Herstowski

Head of Sales

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