Before co-founding Polaris, I worked at a consulting firm where I contributed to and eventually led many custom software engineering projects. Through that experience, I discovered the joy a successful software project can provide, especially for organizational leaders and end users. In most cases, however, the process was also very tough on my teammates, who faced difficult-to-meet expectations. Polaris was formed with a mission to reimagine software development.
Below, I’ll share insights from 12 years of building a better approach to software solutions, the core values that any IT leader can use to help ensure a successful project, plus a free Discovery Template to use when vetting potential development partners.
Why You Need a Partner, Not Just a Vendor
A client recently commented that most software vendors today describe themselves as partners, but Polaris actually delivers on it. When launching a critical software project, you need a vendor who can offer you a strategic partnership and critical thinking alongside technical skills. A partner engages with you on the ‘why’ behind an initiative, knows when to execute and get it done; and also steps in when you need help making sure you’re building the right thing.
Finding a partner like this can actually be simple, as long as you engage your network of other IT executives and are clear about what you’re looking for. Here are three hallmarks of a good partner to share when seeking recommendations:
- Relentless focus on value – With the earliest interactions, from estimating to learning about your needs, a firm should be willing to contribute knowledge and value. From there, you can rest assured your partner will be committed to getting it right.
- Transparency – Other fields of engineering have laws of physics and gravity to put bounds on them, but software is typically only constrained by imagination. As a result, projects rarely go exactly as planned. When things change, a partner should be transparent so effective decisions can be made. A software partner who regularly shares their recipes for success is a good signal of transparency.
- Confident humility – When you, your team, and a software partner work together, you want that assembled group of people to turn into a single team. You need a partner with opinions, but also one whose talent will work with and teach other teams. They should be as open to new ideas as they are prolific in generating them.
Whether you’re looking for help building a new custom application or modernizing a legacy system, these considerations can guide you in the right direction. Once you’ve narrowed your list down to some select providers and are ready for the next stage, you can put these interview questions to use.
Discovery Questions to Ensure a Successful Partnership [Template]
Ranging from the straightforward to the unexpected, these seven questions are designed to help you find your perfect software partner–someone who cares about your business priorities and can get your project done at budget, on time, and done right the first time.
- Will you introduce me to three successful references you’ve worked for?
Don’t treat this step as a formality, and read up on the Harvard Business Review’s classic guide to checking references. Apply the same rigor you might to hiring an employee to selecting a partner.
- Could I meet the #2 and #3 people who, in theory, you’d have on our project?
Many companies have a great #1 or top-tier team, but inspecting a sample of the rest of the team can give you insights into what their work will really be like.
- How confident are you in your estimates?
- What will you do if things don’t go as planned?
- Can you send me a link to something your firm built that is publicly available?
- What other services beyond software development do you do?
A strong software partner should have deep experience in Agile and/or DevOps enablement. But if this answer veers too broad (e.g. digital marketing and more) you should be concerned.
- Of the software projects you’ve done, can you tell me a bit about the one you’re most excited about?
This last question gives you an opportunity to learn what they’re passionate about.
This level of inquiry is the stuff great partnerships are made of. Recently, we were tapped by Aspire Software, a company with real vision and drive to be the best at helping landscaping services businesses succeed. We led an effort to update their architecture and modernize their software, setting Aspire up for many years of innovation, and I’m so proud of the outcome.
As a product of both St. Louis and Chicago, I was raised by my parents to put in an “honest day’s work… always.” In Polaris partnerships, modernization meets these Midwestern values. We want to bring the joy of successful software projects to everyone–from individual team members to entire organizations to end users. If you think we might be a fit for your next project, book a design session, on our dime, to see what we can make together.
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