December 05, 2023

7 Red Flags You Shouldn't Ignore When Choosing a Technology Partner

Andrey Konoplenko

CEO and Co-founder, Brocoders

10 min

50% of the outsourced projects either fail outright or just fail to meet client expectations. As the CEO of Brocoders, an outsourcing agency with extensive experience in technology collaborations, I noticed that every third project we've had is a take-over from a previous team that failed.

Our clients have various reasons for changing their teams, such as project delays, technical debt, poor communication, limited capacity, contract fluctuations, or non-compliance issues. However, in most cases, the primary issue revolves around project delivery. Even the most skilled team can disappoint if they don’t deliver what the client needs.

So, how can you tell if a company can actually deliver a project and not just write some code? Before we get to the seven main aspects that define whether an agency can be a real partner or rather an order-taker, let’s see an example of one of our projects that gave me some insights on this topic.

Rescuing a Failed Product

HeyPractice, a European edtech company, approached Brocoders to revamp their interactive learning platform. The company had previously started developing their MVP's backend and they needed us to turn it into a full-fledged AI-based learning platform for sales and marketing teams.

To understand this project better, we started with a code audit and found several issues: not tested backend, lack of documentation for project setup, average code quality, insufficient separation of front-end and back-end components, non-adherence to REST principles in the API, and so on. So we recommended our client to rewrite the app from scratch but reuse the old database structure. We had to do almost everything from scratch but the result was just what the client wanted – an excellent learning platform that allows employees to practice and develop their pitching skills.

One thing makes this case important: its repeatability. Most companies can produce code, some of which may be of average or even high quality, but they often lack a product-oriented mindset. The result of this approach is a working, but not market-ready tool that needs further development and often structural changes to make it serve its goal.

The problem is so common that it happens even with the world-leading companies. Just recall one of the most resounding scandals caused by failed outsourcing – a lawsuit between The Hertz Corporation and Accenture LLP when the latter couldn’t deliver what it promised.

How do you avoid such companies and find a team that will build a valuable product, not just a working (in the best case) code? In many cases, it may take several months or even years to fully evaluate the results of your partnership choices. But there are signs you can look for before you start working together.

After partnering with numerous businesses that worked with unreliable developers before they came to Brocoders, I identified seven major characteristics to recognize and avoid.

7 Signs It’s Not the Right Agency For You

Having talked to many clients who've partnered with an unreliable outsourcing team, I can say that partnership success always depends on a range of non-technical factors. Here are these critical business considerations that can make or break your experience with an outsourcing agency:

  1. A lack of understanding of your business needs. This is the most common reason why clients come to Brocoders after the previous team let them down. Though the company had a great team of developers, it didn’t help them achieve their goal. No programming genius can replace a product mindset and a clear understanding of business goals. When you talk to your potential partner, pay close attention to how well they understand your business model. It's not just about them nodding along; it's about their ability to comprehend the intricacies of your industry, your challenges, and your objectives.
  2. Limited industry expertise. The tech world is incredibly diverse, and having experience in a specific industry can make all the difference. Without that industry knowledge, misunderstandings can arise, and valuable opportunities might be missed. Don’t rush into impulsive decisions but take your time and look at the company's portfolio to see whether they can deliver exactly what you need.
  3. Rigid pipeline. Flexibility is paramount in the outsourcing world. An outsourcing agency has to remain agile and tailor their services to meet specific client needs. Even if your project doesn't differ much from other software development projects in terms of SDLC, there’s always this little but critical detail that makes your project unique. The right partner will see it and approach their work differently, never limiting their services to a rigid action plan.
  4. Hidden costs. Transparency is a non-negotiable principle for any outsourcing agency. When they are not forthright about their pricing structure and/or estimations, it can lead to trust issues and unpleasant surprises down the road. Whether it’s project-based development or time and material, the conditions should be clear, leaving you with no open questions or misunderstandings.
  5. Over-promising. Trustworthy partners set realistic expectations and deliver on their commitments. At Brocoders, we've seen situations where the previous team, in their eagerness to win a project, made lofty assurances that were impossible to fulfill. The result is usually the same, either an unfinished product or a faulty tool that needs fixes, if not reengineering.
  6. Poor communication and responsiveness. If a company you communicate with is slow to respond, uncooperative, or difficult to reach, it will result in even additional challenges and frustration. You may have direct contact with only one or two people responsible for the project from the vendor’s side, but they have to always be available.
  7. Lack of scalability and resource planning. Projects vary in size and complexity, and an agency needs to allocate resources effectively to accommodate these fluctuations. Our clients have shared stories of partnering with outsourcing agencies that couldn’t scale resources. In these scenarios, projects were either delayed or fell short of meeting client expectations. So make sure to check whether your partner-to-be can provide seamless team scaling to avoid missed deadlines and a stalled project later on.

Sure, this is not an exhaustive list of things to pay attention to, but an essential one. Based on these red flags, we can also identify the criteria for finding the right partner, focusing on what they need to offer.

The Main Criteria Of a Tech Partner

Now we can figure out an image of the partner that will meet your expectations. Here’s a comparative table to sum up everything previously mentioned.

“Red flag” partnerReliable partner
Business visionLittle to no understanding of your business needs, no long-term vision and commitment.In-depth understanding of your needs, industry, and goals. Able to offer innovative solutions.
ExpertiseLimited or outdated industry knowledge. Struggles to adapt to the industry requirements.Up-to-date and relevant industry expertise, aware of trends. Quick adaptation to industry changes.
FlexibilityResistant to changes, with rigid processes that affect agility. Strict adherence to contracts even when impractical.Adaptive to changes, agile problem-solving. Willingness to renegotiate terms if necessary for mutual benefit.
BudgetUnexpected charges not disclosed upfront. Costs that spiral out of control.Transparent about all potential costs. Cost management and cost-saving strategies are in place.
PromisesUnrealistic promises that cannot be fulfilled.Sets realistic expectations, and delivers on promise consistently.
CommunicationSlow or zero communication. Difficult to reach or uncooperative.Prompt, clear, and open communication. Proactive in addressing any issues.
ScalabilityStruggles to allocate resources effectively, no planning for changing project requirements.A smooth and consistent project flow; the right skills and expertise are available when needed.

With this table in place, you can filter those who can’t deliver what you need and choose among companies that offer reliable partnerships. But even the perfect outsourcing partner is not enough to deliver a successful project.

I believe you can't "find" perfect partners; they're created through collaboration where both sides work to foster synergy. In any partnership, it's a two-way street, so let's now discuss the client's role and responsibility.

Client's Part

While your partner is handling the technical aspects of your project, you as a client influence every important decision and direct the workflow. To do it well, you need to keep in mind several key aspects that will influence the whole project.

First and foremost, clear communication is key. It's your responsibility to provide a detailed project brief, explaining your objectives, requirements, and expectations. The better your partner understands your vision, the faster they can build what you need. Additionally, your availability for meetings and feedback can significantly boost project speed.

Another essential aspect of client responsibility is the provision of necessary resources. This includes access to any existing systems or data required for the project and timely delivery of any materials or content crucial to the development process.

Furthermore, budget and timeline considerations are in your hands. Clear budget constraints and project timelines help your technical partner plan and execute the project effectively, and avoid cost overruns and delays.

In summary, as a client seeking a technical partner, your responsibility includes effective communication, providing resources and materials, making timely decisions, and maintaining transparency regarding budget and timelines. Relationships are two-sided, so be ready to put in some effort – and the result will be worth it.

Bottom Line

Software development is not just about writing code; it's about executing the entire project. While many can deliver working code, only a select few can bring your vision to life in a predictable way. So choose your technology partner wisely and seek those who are willing to commit.

The right partner understands your business needs and offers expertise, flexibility, transparency, and clear communication. Don't settle for less – in the end, it will cost you even more.

And, of course, do your part of the job, that is, be the client who knows what they need and can explain their vision clearly.

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