Contractors and Clients
Except in instances where a Web site is an integral part of a business (or the core medium), it is common that web development projects are intermittent and do not require full-time permanent staff, so companies rely on external factors: contractors (full-time temporary employees) and vendors who provide solutions as a product. There is generally a blend of in-house and outside individuals working on a given site project.
When deciding whether to obtain internal resources or leverage external ones, the author suggests six key factors:
- Expertise: Whether the expertise to do the task will be needed for other tasks after the project is completed
- Cost: Whether the cost of doing a task is lower if external developers are used (EN: offshoring)
- Control: The degree of control that can be exerted over an individual may be key (especially when vendors are serving multiple clients)
- Teamwork: This is vague, but it is suggested that people who have developed working relationships are more efficient and effective than a team of new players,
- Availability: Should internal resources be unavailable, or already have a full load of work, there may be no choice but to go outside
- Investment: An external developer may be a better choice if he brings with him specialized equipment/software that may be needed only for this one project
EN: The author misses a number of things, such as the sensitivity of the project, the need to maintain institutional knowledge, the need to generate competitive advantage. Since the book was written in 2001, more lessons have been learned the hard way in the meantime.
The author lists a handful of pitfalls for working with external resources:
- Compatibility - The culture of the two organizations may be in conflict, there may be a conflict of interest, or there may just be something wrong with the "chemistry" between the outsiders and employees
- Control - Some vendors are very grabby, and try to use a project as the thin edge of a wedge to gain greater control than the company who hires them wants them to have.
- Flexibility - A common area of conflict with vendors is when design specifications change, and they feel the original contract is invalid. Their flexibility in adapting to change without a great deal of rigmarole is important.
- Relationship - A lot of this goes back to compatibility, but this has more to do with long-term compatibility, and the ability to maintain a positive working relationship.
- Dancing with Elephants - From the development firm's perspective, most design houses are small-size companies that are used to doing things very nimbly, and may have difficulty dealing with large corporate entities and their stodgy and irrational ways.
- Ongoing Engagement - In some instances, it may be preferable to continue to use a vendor on a project where internal resources are available for the sake of maintaining a long-term relationship.
Tips for selecting vendors:
- Review a portfolio of previous work, with an eye toward seeing samples that reflect experience of the nature you need
- Contact references to determine how well they've done for other clients, especially in terms of the work process
- There is much you can tell about a firm by making a site visit: the size and condition of its facilities, disposition of employees, and its corporate culture.
- Meeting the owner of a company can provide important insight into the firm's work mode and ethic,
- Run the D&B reports to determine the stability of the firm, especially for large scale projects
- Ensure that you use apples-to-apples comparisons among proposals, especially when there are great variances in prices
- Consider vendors who provide an array of services so that establishing ties with one vendor can serve several needs rather than having to select several different vendors
Regarding project estimates, it is important to ensure that a vendor understands the full scope and nature of a project. Inasmuch as possible, see if you can tell what resources an outside firm is devoting to the work - if they are using an insufficient number of people and are not addressing necessary roles, chances are development will be late and the product will not meet your expectations.
Regarding contracts, make sure that everything is spelled out in sufficient detail: the work to be performed, payments to be made, deliverables, responsibilities, rights of ownership, warranties, scope of services provided, conditions of termination, etc.
It is also important to set a contract that defines milestones, and that those milestones can be objectively assessed and confirmed. This will enable you to monitor the work of vendors and ensure it is moving along as it should. When possible, tie compensation to the achievement of milestones rather than arbitrary calendar dates.
Last of all, make sure that the relationship with a vendor is win-win: each side is providing something of value to the other. The ideal relationship with a vendor is collaborative rather than confrontational.