Partnering up: How to find the perfect development partner for your business

Finding the right development partner can be challenging for any business. As the tide of digitalisation continues to flow across industries, so too does the need for technical expertise. Development partners can offer businesses relief from the stress of software development by building flexible, lasting digital experiences that customers love.

George Talboys
Product & Programme Manager

With so many partners available globally the choice can be overwhelming - but critical to get right. Research suggests that over 70% of software projects are deemed unsuccessful in the long run.

Over the years, at Pattrn, we’ve worked with dozens of offshore and nearshore development teams globally. We’ve seen our fair share of good, bad and costly partnerships. We understand how difficult it is to find the right development partner.

We’ve summarised our learnings into some actionable steps that we believe can help you find the right development partner.

We have broken our learnings into the following chapters:
  1. Cast the net
  2. Meet
  3. Evaluate and trial
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Chapter One
Cast the net
Before you start your search, it’s helpful to have information gathered about your own capabilities and needs. Without this, it’s difficult to sift through all the possible partners to find one that’s right for you.
Things to have to hand
Clarifying your budget straight away avoids searching for partners that are outside of your price range. Are there stakeholders that need to confirm this first? We recommend knowing your limit, but also have a range in mind.
Understanding your development requirements is essential before you start your search. It’s key to know whether it's a front-end or back-end brief, or if database infrastructure work is necessary for example. This will help you only speak to potential partners that meet your needs.
Internal capabilities
Identify what your company is capable of at the moment. Do you have a data team that will need to work closely with the development partner for example? A quick audit will allow your current situation to be clearer to any potential partners.
Define the location and/or time difference you’re looking for in a partner. Would you be open to working with a team that’s 4 hours ahead of or behind your time zone?
Define the timeline of the project, including any proposed launch date. How flexible are you on this timeline? These details will help you and your potential partner plan effectively.
Creating your longlist
With the above information front of mind, you’re ready to start your search by making a longlist of potential partners.

It’s useful to cast a wide net using various sources to create the list. We have used referrals, recommendations, review websites, online marketplaces and development awards websites in the past. Another option is researching what vendor your competitors use and trying to understand the characteristics of that supplier in order to find similar ones in the market (you may not want to work with your competitor’s vendor).

Once you have a longlist of potential partners, it’s time to gather information on each and evaluate them based on certain criteria. This is helpful in narrowing down the list to become a shortlist.

In our recent search for a development partner here at Pattrn, one of our key considerations was the location. In our longlist, we opened up the pool to potential partners in the US and Asia. But when creating our shortlist we narrowed it down to only include developers within a 4-hour time zone of ours.

We have summarised the criteria we use to consider whether a potential partner makes the shortlist.

“It’s easy to go with the cheapest or the biggest, but that’s not always the best decision for your business in the long run”

Points of consideration
Local, nearshore or offshore - how much of a time difference would it be?
Services provided
Front-end, back-end, web development, software development, content management systems, architecture or database building, SEO, quality assurance, operations/devops
Who they are, past experience, technology background, involvement in day-to-day work
Number of employees, employee qualifications, transparency, employee churn
Transparency of pricing, guide project prices
Focus on employee satisfaction, characteristics such as fun, serious, committed, reliable, staff-focused, profit-focused
Website quality
Narrative, case studies, overall craft and quality
Case studies
Tangible results, openness about past projects and results
Values and principles
Alignment with your business
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Chapter Two
Now that you have your shortlist, it’s time to interview your potential partners to get to know them on a deeper level.

We find this process is akin to interviewing candidates for a job in our team. It’s equally important to get right.  

Ahead of the first conversation, ensure you have the “things to have to hand” info ready to share. This shows you’ve done your part to ensure it’s a fruitful introductory call.  

Below are some topics to cover in the interviews with some example questions. We don’t recommend you read these out word-for-word - we use it as a general guide.

It’s not crucial to discuss everything in the first meeting. Sometimes the first call can be solely focused on the brief. If they have potential, we recommend setting up further calls which can take a deeper dive into their approach.

What tools do you use for communication? (Slack, Teams, Google Hangouts)

Do you have a preferred way to communicate or are you flexible?

How often do you communicate with your clients during a project?
Ways of working
Can you describe your end-to-end working process?

Can you give an example of how you’ve worked with a client before and any difficulties that were encountered and overcome?

Do you have fixed processes, or are you flexible?

Can you adapt to our ways of working? Eg. our dependencies, tools, stakeholders, and experience.

What workflow methodology do you recommend and why?
Are you open to collaborating closely on projects?

How much do you collaborate with other clients?

How do you collaborate with other clients? Eg. Software, processes etc.

Are you able to embed your team within our business?

Can your team work collaboratively with other service providers?
How many employees do you have?

Do your employees work on multiple projects at once?

How qualified are your employees?

What levels of seniority do you have?

What is your team structure for projects?
Can you easily scale the number of employees needed on a project?

Where do you get the additional employees from?

Can you give an example of when you have done this and how?
Are you able to meet our deadlines for launch?

When can you start the project?

Can you give examples of hitting deadlines on previous projects?
How do you cost projects?

What information do you require from us?

Can you provide a cost estimate for our project?

Can you give estimated costs for agile projects?
Culture / Ethos
What kind of culture does your business have?

How do you maintain and develop it?

Do you have diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives?

How diverse is your business?
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Chapter Three
Evaluate and trial
Once you’ve met and understood the potential partners’ capability, it’s important to take the time to evaluate each on a deeper level. Both individually, and collectively with your team.

It can be too easy to go with a partner that meets certain criteria. But there can still be red flags hidden from view. Taking the time to evaluate lets your gut form a decision that you trust.

To help, we have used our past experiences to list signs that, in retrospect, were either positives or red flags.

Positive telltale signs
Capability and expertise
With so many partners offering a variety of services, it's important to know right away that a partner can deliver what we’re looking for. This box is ticked when we see their capability demonstrated through case studies.
Recommendations and referrals
Development partners who have many sources that can vouch for their work. This gives us an understanding of how successful their projects have been.
Understanding our business
The team speak our language. Both literally, and by showing they have made effort to understand our business context. This leaves a great first impression and sets the foundation for a successful partnership.
Attention to detail
They value quality in their work and demonstrate attention to detail through past projects. We find in-house quality assurance (QA) teams a good sign, as they can ensure that the work is delivered to a high standard.
Watch outs
Past experience outshines optimism in our eyes, especially for complex briefs. For example, building an investment platform with hundreds of funds across dozens of countries - we have seen first-hand that this is no easy feat. Check our case study for AXA IM here.
Great chemistry is the key to any long-lasting relationship. This is a must. Yet, we ensure not to let this cloud our judgement when it comes to a final decision.
Consistent quality
As a design studio, we take time to inspect the digital experiences a development team have built. We also check the quality of their own website, as it often reflects a team's standards and attention to detail.
Project cost bargains
Low-cost estimates may seem like a deal worth taking. But it could be a bad sign. The brief may be misunderstood, or the project could be rushed. Both lead to problems. If a project cost feels too good to be true, it probably is.
Promises without technologists
We’re wary of sales making promises without technologists being there to validate. Having technical people involved from the start ensures there will be no unrealistic promises being made.
Spread across timezones
Offshore teams across multiple time differences can lead to communication challenges and inefficiencies. Determining the geography of a partner early on ensures alignment with languages and time zones.
Lack of customisability
Templated development solutions are popular amongst development partners. However, at Pattrn, we create bespoke designs for each project. We value development teams that can deliver the user experiences we define through custom solutions, rather than templates.
Trialling a partner

Trials can consist of a single project or a set period of time, such as 3 or 6 months. During this time you can assess how well they fit into your business. We highly recommend this if there is any uncertainty at the end of your search process.

“If you are not ready to commit to a development partnership, you can always arrange a trial period to evaluate compatibility and assess the quality of work.”

Thomas Roberts  AXA Investement Managers
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Chapter 1

When considering a development partner, it's easy to go with the cheapest or the biggest, but that's not always the best decision for your business in the long run. Proper due diligence slims the chance of making a bad call.

To summarise, this is our tried and tested approach:

1. Cast the net wide
  • Gather information and define your own requirements.
  • Cast a wide net and explore as many options as possible.
  • Turn the longlist into a shortlist.
2. Get to know each shortlisted partner properly
  • Treat them like a new employee. Take the time to get to know each one thoroughly.
  • Bring your team into the conversation, so everyone can form an opinion on who you think would work best for your needs.
3. Evaluate
  • Take stock and don't be rushed into a decision.
  • Keep an eye out for red flags.
  • Consult your team. Listen to your gut.
  • Ask for a trial period if you are still unsure.
If you are looking for a new development partner or you’re embarking on a digital transformation programme then get in touch to see how Pattrn could contribute to your business.
If you’d like to know more about how we work, please get in touch.