Choosing the Right Tech Developer

Choosing the right technology developer to partner with is vital to the success and sustainability of your digital health promotion research. It can also be a stressful, confusing venture, especially if it’s new to you or have had previous negative experiences working with developers.

In this blog, we break down some tips and items to reflect on as you choose your developer. We’ve broken it down into two parts: (1) Critical reflections and actions before reaching out to potential developers, and (2) key items to consider when meeting with and evaluating the developers who submit proposals.

By no means is this list meant to be exhaustive – these are just a few tips that address common pain points we’ve often seen researchers encounter during this process.

First, let’s review what you can and should do before picking up the phone:

  • App Spec Document – Have you made a detailed ‘App Spec Document’? This is a clear review of your project – covering your goals, outlining the intended users of your app in detail, specifying at least the baseline functionality you expect to have, a review of timelines and resources, etc. We have shared some specific tips here that we believe are useful when writing an app spec document for website and/or app development.
  • Do your research – Have you done the requisite research? You undoubtedly have a shortlist of maybe 5 tech developers that you plan to reach out to. Check reviews online and read their websites to gather as much information as possible. Some insights you will potentially gain are:
    • Do they have specific experience in your field?
    • How detailed and relevant are their testimonials? Is there anything specific they speak to (across multiple testimonials) that is potentially a pain point or concern of yours?
    • Can you assess what technology they tend to work with? Even further, can you see a bit on how they work, i.e. the tools they use and the types of processes and communication they believe in when discussing customer success stories?
    • How big of a company are they? If you have a modest budget, you may not want to work with the biggest developers out there. You might have a better experience working with a smaller agency that is eager for your business. Think of where the developer is as a business, and what types of clients they most value.
  • Check in with your university, healthcare organization, and/or governing agencies – Have you checked to see what contracting requirements you must consider? This is critical to understand before beginning the tendering process. Meet with your organization’s IT stakeholders and decision-makers as early in the process as possible (and be sure to document your meetings and correspondence).
  • Pick the right tech stack – Often we believe it’s the sole job of the tech partner to choose the tech stack. This is incomplete as you may be limited in terms of your tech choice by how the project has to be supported and sustained. Will you have own staff doing the maintenance and troubleshooting? Is there a central department in your organization that will jump in as needed? Make sure to understand the mid- and long-term life of your app, who will be doing what. This all has potential to influence your decisions on the tech stack that is to be chosen by you and your tech partner.

Spending time and care here on the above will give you and your team confidence before you go out for bids. It will also ensure the bid process and communication with developers in general is much more efficient. Once you have put your best foot forward it is now about how to make the best judgement. Here are some tips that we find useful when meeting with developers and collecting bids:

  • Communication – How does each dev team organize their work and communicate with their clients? What emphasis do they put on communication in their pitch to you and what structure and processes do they share with you to support this? Be wary of a pitch that avoids detail and clarity here.
  • Organisation – When meeting with a prospective dev team it is important to note how they themselves communicate and work together in the 1st meeting together with you. Are there clear roles, how is rapport among their team, are their actions clear and supporting of one another’s? Be wary of dev teams that appear disorganised, unclear on who does what, and in general tend to be chaotic in how they interact with you.  
  • Your user – How well are they grasping your user’s world? One clear and concise way a prospective partner can show they are truly invested in your project is that they are able to intelligently regurgitate your user’s world back to you.
  • Sustainability – How much clarity have you received on testing, support and maintenance of your app? We hinted on this earlier in this post – the sustainability of your app is vital and must be considered throughout this entire build out process. What importance has a potential tech partner dedicated to you in their respective pitch? How much effort and clarity have they communicated to you moving from the buildout to testing, and then from testing to maintenance and troubleshooting?
  • Balance between front-end and back-end expertise Some digital agencies lean more towards front-end design and may not have the expertise to put together a robust, secure database for your intervention. Even the most beautiful, user-friendly platform can fail if the backend has poor architecture. It’s a good idea to reiterate the points on your spec doc that detail your security requirements – they may be stricter than their average client’s.
  • App specs doc – Finally, did the partner really absorb your specs document? Are they asking intelligent, graduated questions that show they understand your user, your vision and the resources you have available?

Finding a developer for a digital health intervention can be daunting, especially if it’s a new skill. This blog post is part of a series we’re writing, with the aim of giving health researchers tools and resources for navigating technical topics. Check out our latest blogs to learn more.

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