Ask these questions to ensure you find a mobile developer with the right fit, capabilities, and communication skills
Mobile apps are a necessity in today’s smartphone-first world to engage customers, sell product, and grow your business.
According to Comscore, 1.8 billion people across the world have mobile phones, surpassing the amount of desktop computers in 2014. Mobile is an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of.
Whether you’re a corporate executive with a large budget, or an entrepreneur looking to launch your startup, there’s a lot of time, money, and pride at stake in developing a mobile app, so finding the right app developer is extremely important.
But if you’re a non-technical person or are new to the app development world, seeking out that right developer to build your mobile app can be a near-impossible task.
Some of your concerns may include:
- How do you identify which developers are better than others?
- With what languages, technologies, and platforms should quality developers be proficient?
- How can you judge which developers will communicate well, and which will hardly interact with you during the development process?
Navigating these issues with so much on the line can be daunting.
But you can do it if you ask the right questions.
We’ve been asked many of these important questions from prospective customers throughout our years of mobile app development. So we’ve compiled a list of questions you can ask to better assess the quality of potential developers for your next mobile app project.
We’ve categorized the questions into four key groups (click the links to jump down to each section):
- Developer Fit – How well the developer’s past experience fits with the app that you need built
- Developer’s Capabilities – The skills the developer has in creating the necessary features, functionality, and design of your app
- Development Process – How the developer will manage, communicate, and execute during the development process
- Legal and Admin – Ownership of the app and project fee structure
Check out the questions below.
1) Can you provide examples of mobile apps you’ve developed?
Past performance is a good predictor of future results, and you can get a good idea of the level of skill that a mobile app developer can bring to the table by looking at other apps they’ve built.
A high-quality app developer should be proud of the work that they’ve done and eager to provide examples of apps they’ve created.
A qualified app developer will be excited to provide you with links to Apple’s App Store and Google Play (or other app stores, if relevant) for apps they’ve built and describe the role they played in developing those apps.
Developers with little experience may not have built complete apps from scratch, but they should be open and honest about their contributions to existing apps.
If a mobile app developer is hesitant to respond to your request, you can feel confident that person isn’t a top-tier, experienced app developer and he or she is not a good fit for you.
Image courtesy of Graphberry
2) For what size companies have you built apps?
Experience working with a company that is similar in size as yours is a very important but sometimes overlooked factor in selecting the right mobile app developer.
A large enterprise is run very differently than a startup or small business, and these varying cultures can be reflected in the app development process.
Larger companies may require formal documentation, specific project management processes, and more meetings and updates.
Smaller businesses may need more budget oversight and have less strict processes.
A mobile app developer that has experience working with a company in a similar stage as yours can be very valuable, as that developer may better understand your processes and how you work.
This will minimize the chance of a culture clash and avoid any conflicts that may arise, and everyone can focus on building the best mobile application possible.
3) Who are your past and current clients, and can I speak with them?
A good look at the developer’s past work is very valuable, but the process of getting to those results may be just as important.
That’s why speaking with the mobile app developer’s past and current clients is very helpful and can give you an idea of how the developer manages the relationship throughout the development process.
You should ask how reliable the developer is, how well they communicate, and how they deal with pressure and tight deadlines.
Dig into the type of development projects they worked together on, what were some of the hurdles that were dealt with, and how nimble and flexible the developer was when things didn’t go as planned.
In addition to asking the right questions, listen to the tone of your conversation to see if there is a level of excitement when the reference speaks about working with the app developer.
The one issue with speaking with the developer’s clients is that they may only provide those references with whom they have a great relationship.
If you still have some doubt about the developer after speaking with their clients, you can find some common connections on LinkedIn or Facebook and inquire about their personality, skills, and capabilities.
Regardless which route you take, speaking with people who have worked with the developer in the past will give you a better sense of how you might work together in the future.
4) How well do you understand my customers and business?
You may not explicitly ask if an app developer understands your customers and business, but this is something that’s very important to dig into when you look for your potential partner.
If a mobile app developer doesn’t take the time to understand your customers’ needs, wants, and behaviors, they won’t be able to empathize why they would want to use your app and won’t be able to build the features and user experience necessary for them.
It’s a good sign if the developer has had clients in a similar industry as yours. If not, having a conversation about your target users and how much they understand that segment will tell you how good of a fit that developer is.
An app developer that doesn’t understand your customers or business, or doesn’t take the time to try, is not one that you want to work with.
5) How much experience do you have building the specific features needed for my app?
You’ll have a good idea of the features and functionality that you want in your mobile app, and you need to make sure that your developer can build them.
Do you need ratings and reviews incorporated into your app? Does your app require integration with your phone’s accelerometer? Do you need your app to connect with existing back-end software?
Again, looking at other apps that the developer has created will be helpful to see if they have direct experience with building the features you desire.
Not all developers will have experience building every feature, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t.
If there isn’t any direct experience, ask the potential developer if they are familiar with that feature and how they might go about implementing it. The developer should mention frameworks and plugins that can be leveraged and provide insight into other apps that have similar functionality.
Innovative features help users achieve their tasks using your app, and finding a developer who can implement these features is paramount.
6) How focused are you on design and user experience?
Features are certainly important but design and the experience of how the user accesses these features are just as critical to the success of your app.
Differentiating your mobile app from the over 3 million apps available across all of the app stores is difficult, and design and user experience is becoming so important to stand out among the crowd.
Photo courtesy of Andy Bright on Flickr
Good design isn’t just pretty pictures and bright colors. There are two parts to good design – user interface and user experience.
User interface (UI) refers to how the app looks. Of course, this is very important; users expect apps to be beautiful and well-designed. Colors that represent the app’s brand need to be pleasing to the eye, fonts need to be easily read, and elements need to be properly spaced. The app has to look good.
User experience (UX) refers to how the app meets the needs of the user and how accessible and easy the app’s features are to use.
An app with a great UX allows the user to derive value from your app quickly and easily.
The right mobile app developer must be able to incorporate both a beautiful user interface and a simple, effective user experience into your app.
As always, it’s important to check out the apps built by potential developers to get a feel for their design sensibilities.
7) How can you build monetization features into my app?
While making money from your app might not come until later, your developer should know how to implement monetization features at any time.
There are a number of ways to make money from a mobile app, including:
- Paid apps (pay per download)
- In-app advertising
- Freemium model
- In-app purchases
Check out this article for overviews of each monetization model.
Each model requires different methods of integration.
If your app is free and you plan on making money from ads, make sure your developer is familiar with mobile advertising networks such as AdMob (part of Google), Millennial Media (now part of AOL), and others.
If you want to incorporate in-app purchases, your developer should be familiar with both the technology needed to implement this and the user flows necessary to maximize conversions.
If making money from your mobile app is important to you, make sure your developer is knowledgeable about the ways to make this happen.
8) How will we communicate during the development process?
Communication during the development process is absolutely critical to the quality of your app, so make sure you dig deep into how your developer will interact with you from day one.
You should seek a developer that speaks about using agile development, consistently communicating, garnering feedback, and iterating.
As we all know, things can change very quickly, and software development is no different.
That’s why it’s best to work with a developer that allows you and other stakeholders to provide feedback early and often to identify and deal with potential hurdles as soon as possible.
It all starts with Discovery and Design phases.
In the Discovery phase, you and your developer will put your heads together to agree upon the features and functionality of your app.
Then in the Design phase, you’ll work together to create wireframes and mockups that represent what the app might look like, keeping all of the aforementioned features in mind.
Only when the designs are approved will app development begin.
Communication during the development process must continue to be consistent.
Many developers will use project management tools such as Jira, Trello, Asana, Basecamp, and others to track project progress. Regardless of what tools are used, feedback should be fully incorporated into the process to ensure the project is on the right track.
Weekly or bi-weekly meetings should be scheduled to provide status updates and identify any issues that might arise.
If any additional features or functionality are necessary, a level-of-effort estimate will be created to ensure you know what the financial and time impact building that new feature will have on the project.
You should also consider whether the developer is working remotely, how time zone differences may impact communication, and the overall availability of your development partner.
Every project will have different levels of communication, but making sure that you and your mobile app developer have similar communication philosophies is crucial.
9) How will you test my app?
The last thing you want to do is launch an app with a bunch of bugs and broken features. It’s up to you and your app developer to work together to ensure that your app works, and works the way you envisioned it.
Your app should be tested as it is being developed. If your developer employs agile methodologies (as they should, per question #8 above), they will provide to you test versions of your app throughout the development process so you can verify features as they are being created.
Testing should occur on the mobile phone for which the app is being built.
If your app is being developed for iOS, it’s pretty easy to test it on the last few versions of the iPhone like the 6S and 6S Plus, 6 and 6 Plus, SE, 5S, and 5.
If your app is being built for Android, it might be a bit more difficult to test, since there are so many different phones and versions of Android. You won’t need to test your app on every Android device or version, but a good amount of testing will be helpful to sniff out any bugs or poor user experiences.
Getting your app into the hands of potential users via focus groups or “hallway testing” is very important as well.
You and your developer will be too involved in the creation of the app to be able to see its flaws. So outsiders’ points of view will be extremely valuable to identify potential improvements and broken features.
App developers may have different philosophies toward testing, so make sure that you’re aligned on the testing methods and the extent to which your app will be tested.
10) Will you submit my mobile app to app stores, and whose name will the app be under?
After testing, the final step of the launch process is to submit your app to the respective app stores, such as the Apple App Store and Google Play. Your app is almost live!
Submission of apps to these stores can be a long and frustrating endeavor (especially for the Apple App Store), but your developer should know the ins and outs of the process and be able to guide you throughout.
However, it is critical that you obtain your own Apple Developer Program subscription, Google Play developer account, and your own account for other app stores and have the app submitted under your account.
There have been situations where the app developer or development company submits the client’s app to the app stores under their name. You want to completely avoid this because when the developer is out of the picture, you will then have no access to your app because the app stores won’t know that it’s your app.
You won’t be able to release new versions because you won’t have access to the account. You’ll essentially have to start over and release a brand new app to the stores under a different account and somehow convince your users to download the new version. Not good.
Thus, it’s very important for you to spend the money to obtain your own app store accounts so the app can be released under your account.
So while the developer should help guide you through the submission process, it’s imperative that everything is submitted under your account.
11) Will you maintain the app once it’s launched?
It’s a great feat to have your app approved and launched on the app stores, but the job isn’t done yet.
In order to acquire new users and keep current users engaged, you’ll have keep up with bug fixes (there will always be bugs), test on updated versions of the operating systems, and continuously improve the features and functionality of the app.
So you should ask your developer how you can structure a maintenance and support program to address the future changes to your mobile app that may be necessary.
Sometimes this can simply be an hourly rate charged for time spent on making ad-hoc edits to the app.
Other times it can be an ongoing monthly structure where a set amount of hours are dedicated to upkeep of your mobile app for a monthly fee.
Find a deal that works for both of you to ensure your app is maintained properly.
Legal and Admin
12) Who will own the mobile app?
As the paying customer, you should own the finished product.
The development of software by a third party is typically created under a “Work Made for Hire” (pdf download) copyright, where you, as the purchaser of services, owns the app’s designs and code created by the app developer. So make sure the language in your contract reflects this.
Additionally, many developers include clauses that say they have the “right to derivative works,” which benefits both you and the developer.
According to LegalZoom, a derivative work is a new, original product that includes aspects of a preexisting, already copyrighted work. In this case, your mobile app may include features and functionality that have been implemented in other mobile apps.
There are a lot of features in a mobile app that are very common across many apps. Often app developers build the same piece of functionality many times (e.g. swipe down to refresh, user login flows, and others).
With the derivative works clause, developers are able to reuse a lot of the common code that they may have developed before on other projects, which reduces the cost of the project and and the risk for you.
Proprietary algorithms or specific intellectual property won’t be reused, but simple features and functionality can be applied in future projects.
The legal language can sometimes be tough to decipher, so just make sure that the developer is performing Work Made for Hire and keep an eye out for what is considered derivative works.
13) What are your fees and payment terms?
Payment fees and terms can sometimes be buried in the legal jargon of the Statement of Work or Services Agreement, so make sure both you and your developer are in agreement about this.
Of course, the first thing you will want to know is how much the entire mobile app development project might cost (click here to check out our blog post on that topic). But other important aspects include how the developer will charge you and when you need to pay the fees.
Regarding how much the project may cost, there are two primary pricing structures – hourly and fixed cost.
With hourly pricing, the developer charges a rate for each hour worked (which can range from $20-200+ per hour, depending on experience and geographical considerations) and tracks the amount of time spent on your project.
During the proposal process, the developer will provide an estimate of how many hours he or she believes the project will take, but will charge you for every hour worked whether that total time is below or above the approximation.
In a fixed price project, the developer will provide you with a total cost of the project upfront and (hopefully) stick with that number.
If unexpected circumstances arise and additional work above and beyond the original scope is necessary, the developer should approach you about how much that extra work will cost before moving ahead.
Payment terms vary from developer to developer.
Those who charge hourly may ask to be paid bi-weekly or monthly.
Developers who charge via fixed cost may ask for a deposit equal to 30-50% of the total project cost upfront, with the balance due after project delivery. Others may accept being paid after the work is completed.
Beware of those who ask for the entire project payment upfront, as you’ll have little leverage if the developer’s work doesn’t live up to your standards.
Be sure to review the developer’s Statement of Work or proposal and ask this question so you can come to an agreement about fees and payment structure.
Mobile apps are so important and can help you grow your existing business or launch a new one.
Finding the right mobile app developer is crucial, but it’s not easy.
Make sure you take the time to find the developer that has the experience and capabilities that fits with the app you need built, communicates well, and has the right legal and fee structure for you.
And asking the right questions is an important part of this search process.
What do you think of these questions? Did we miss anything? Feel free to add your thoughts to the comments.
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