08 Jun The best and the rest: rating Web developers
When you’ve got the budget to implement a Web project, there is no shortage of vendors who want to be your friend. But how do you determine the best choice?
Selecting the right Web developer, Web designer, or interactive media company to work on your company’s Web site can be a challenge. You want to be sure that the company can do the work proposed, takes care of your technology and marketing needs in the process, and maintains an adequate level of attention to your project.
Scott Hasse, partner at The Isthmus Group, a Wisconsin-based consulting and Web application development company, said it is important to find developers who contribute to their profession – not just to the bottom line.
“It’s an important factor. If you want someone who can contribute to your vision and direction, then you need someone who really believes in what they are doing and who know the landscape,” Hasse said. “That’s typically someone who’s participating at a national level.” This includes things like authoring, open-source project participation, and teaching.
Good Web developers are good communicators. They contact potential clients before providing a proposal to ensure they have a clear understanding of the project, its goals, and project-related technologies. Based on discussions with the client, they can fine-tune the timeline, budget, and their proposed approach. Based on their experience, they offer processes for managing changes to the project scope and offer tools that make it easy for clients to provide feedback and monitor project status.
No vendor is an island. Like a building contractor, most Web developers have general Web development skills – but need to call in experts when special needs arise. A good developer is connected.
“No one person can be an expert on every technology,” Hasse said. “You can bring in an individual who is very good work on a project, but with the technology marketplace being what it is, It’s really important for a developer to have a network they can plug into.”
Many companies have in-house staff or additional vendors that can contribute to implementation of their Website. That is why it’s a good idea to evaluate a vendor’s flexibility. Inflexible vendors increase project cost and frustration. If a vendor only does development for .NET and you’re not sure you want to implement a Microsoft-oriented site, consider vendors that are agnostic when it comes to technology.
Given the opportunity, you’ll also want to work with a vendor who takes responsibility when problems arise or delays occur. Many companies using offshore developers from India and Pakistan are pleased with the initial budget for projects, but find it difficult to deal with foreign vendors when things go wrong.
A vendor who is experienced handling potential problems is more desirable than one who will convince you that nothing can go wrong and that all projects are completed on time.
You’ll want to select an experienced developer or Web designer. When it comes to the Web, there’s always someone who will recommend hiring the proverbial “teenaged nephew who seems to know a lot about the Internet”. Many small businesses have picked this option. For a number of reasons it’s the worst choice you could make. Familiarity with HTML programming and/or graphic design won’t make up for the lack of experience most teens have with running a business, developing effective marketing communication, and implementing sophisticated Web-based technology.
And it’s not just teens – during the late 1990s anyone who could learn some HTML could set themself up as a Web developer, even if that was their only experience.
Consider this: Would you ask the hopeful techie, however gifted, to develop your advertising campaign or write a customer brochure? If the answer is no, then seek a professional for your Web project too.
Tips for Selection:
• Get three estimates. This ensures you get a well-rounded view of project-related issues and costs. The likelihood of bad communication is less when your project is reviewed by three potential vendors.
• Make your selection based on overall value not just cost. Spending a little less on a Web site that generates a lower return on investment isn’t a good investment.
• Understand that your project will probably cost a little more than projected. And, that it will likely take a little longer than you think. Going in prepared will help you keep your peace of mind. If the vendor has a good change management process, changes to the budget and timeline will be justified and well documented.
• Create a request for proposal (RFP) and use valid selection criteria.
• Use a consistent process to evaluate potential Web vendors. Consider using a checklist/scorecard that ranks vendors on important criteria. See this example (PDF file).
Once you have made your final decision to award your project to a vendor, it is important that you both agree, in writing, all aspects that make up the project.
Your Web developer or designer should be draw up a Project Agreement that the details of all the services to be provided. The agreement should also include project-related expenses, such as hosting, training, and ongoing site maintenance. If the vendor is creating unique functionality or content, the agreement should also specify copyright and software licensing restrictions.
Vendor’s who balk at the rigors of your selection process or requirements to provide a detailed project agreement are candidates to be avoided. Experienced Web developers and designers, on the other hand, are more likely to value your level of preparedness and organization. It will make their job easier and your project more successful.
An informed client is a good client.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.