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Developer Relations 101

Selecting the right developer for an interactive project involves much more than checking references. In this first of a series of posts on developer-client relations, Anne gives some helpful hints for finding a like-minded developer who can help you bring your vision to life.
September 16, 2013

In her awesome, epic post last week on How to Make a Children’s App, Carla included several tips for how to find a developer to make your app concept a reality. Whether you’re making an iOS or Android app, web games, a console title, or even just hiring a programmer in house, the developer you choose to work with can truly make or break your project.

In addition to Carla’s tips on how to find and vet a developer, I wanted to add my own two cents on the kind of partnership developer-client relationships create, and how to nurture them in a way that will get you the best final product. In this first post, I’ll talk a bit about choosing the right developer for your project, and I’ll follow up in future weeks with more advice on keeping your relationship with that developer on track all the way from the first Statement of Work to the final App Store submission.

Working networks and checking references is a great way to find quality developers that you know come through for their clients, but not every high quality developer is going to be right for your project. So, assuming you’ve done your research, and surfaced a few developer candidates who seem promising, how do you choose the one who’s really going to be able to execute your concept?

Be realistic about the scope

Think about what you want to achieve. Are you making a small e-book app on a tight budget and you’ve already produced all of the text and art? A project of that scope might not make sense for a large development company who has a sizeable staff to pay. You might find a much smaller team, or even an individual, who can execute your idea simply and at a price you can afford. (Similarly, if you want to make a huge console title with hours of game play, hiring a couple of dudes in their garage isn’t going to be realistic.)

Build on applicable experience

Although a small project may not make sense for everyone, sometimes a better-established developer can leverage their experience for greater efficiency. If you find a larger developer who specializes in the kind of products you want to produce (say, a developer who specializes in e-books and has an existing engine for making them), you may be able to build on their infrastructure and skills in the area to make your product quickly and easily. Many developers can figure out how to do what you want them to do, but if you’re clear on what you need and there’s a developer that already knows how to do that, plugging into an existing pipeline may be far preferable than paying someone else to learn on the job.

Look for a compatible process

It’s also important to find a team with a process that’s complementary to your own. If you are creating an app on your own or with a small group of like-minded partners, having an fast-paced, flexible process with quick turn around and a lot of transparency between the teams may be ideal. But if you’re working on a large, long-term project with a lot of stakeholders who can be slow or unpredictable in providing feedback, you run the risk of wasting time and money if you have a team waiting for rapid responses that aren’t coming. In this case, a more traditional deliverables-based process may be preferable.

Get to know the team’s skill set before you hire them

Be realistic about your priorities. If new and innovative technology is on the top of your list, you’re probably looking more for a forward-looking team rather than a developer known for a long history in the market. If your brand is known for its visual sophistication, you may be looking for a group that has an artist with similar sensibilities. In general, look to who comes to initial meetings or conference calls — developers will tend to lead with their strengths and give a sense of their own priorities in the process.

Remember, personal relationships matter

Finally, it may seem silly or trivial, but niceness goes a long way. Whether your project is a long or short one, you’re likely to spend a lot of time talking to your development team and working through thorny issues. So, while you’re weighing the pros and cons of different developer skill sets, don’t forget that it counts a lot to be glad to answer the phone when you see that person show up on your Caller ID.

Once you have your developer selected, then what? Stay tuned for Developer Relations 102, where I’ll share some helpful tips for making sure the kind of deal you make with a developer reflects the realities of your process.

And if you want to talk development in the meantime, drop us a line at KidsGotGame@NoCrusts.com, follow us @NoCrusts on Twitter, or sign-up to receive email updates.

Photo: ©bgottsab

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