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13 tough questions to ask your web developer

13 tough questions to ask your web developer I was corresponding with a company brokering bids for web development contracts in an online marketplace environment, providing some advice. I thought I'd share it, as it is useful to anyone purchasing web development services.

The dynamics of these marketplaces tend to be ruled by the behaviour of huckster companies rather than serious developers. Buyers are usually inexperienced, and shopping largely based on price – 'successful' providers will give low-ball quotes, but only for the more basic system that doesn't come close to what a customer really needs. In the end everybody loses out – the customer's project fails, the low-balling provider can't sleep at night due to their shady tactics, and responsible developers don't get the work. Even if the customer realises the mistake, typically things have gone too far to get the right business investment and switch gears to a decent developer, and the customer moves on with their private life and stays in their full-time job but with an emptied bank account.

So, here are 13 tough questions you should ask your web developer, before even considering accepting a quote…

  1. If the main developer/manager is ill or on holiday, is someone automatically always there to pick up the project? Is there some kind of audit trail of work performed, or at least access to shared notes?
  2. What source code management system is used?
  3. What issue tracking system is used?
  4. What is the policy for out-of-hours support? (weekends, evenings, the middle of the night)
  5. What are the regular maintenance costs going to be?
  6. Is there a documented off-site backup policy already in place, including regular testing of backup integrity?
  7. What is the policy for updating security of any server/CMS software, and is this a standard part of the maintenance agreement?
  8. Are all developers based in (home country), and if not, quantify the cost saving this will give me?
  9. What is the change management process, for changes in specification during implementation of a contract?
  10. What is the software development methodology, and describe formal design documents that would be delivered prior to development.
  11. Describe the process for how a second senior developer reviews code security, or at least demonstrate substantial security experience of the primary developer.
  12. What contingency budget should the customer retain for unexpected development costs?
  13. How much should the customer set aside for marketing the project, outside of development?

My contention is that anyone running a services marketplace should educate their buyers to know how to buy. This way the buyers aren't having to trust the advice of partial bidders on their contracts.

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