Best Ways to Select an OPD Partner for a Startup

Having spent a considerable time on the other side of the table, and being evaluated for the role of OPD Partner by 50+ startup founders, I have learned some of the clever ways to hire the best suited Outsourced Product Development Team for a startup.

This blog of mine is an outcome of all the experience I have gained from my decades of working with some of the best minds in the industry. So, here are the Best Ways to Select an OPD Partner:

Trial Run:

I consider trial run as one of the best ways to understand the capabilities of your vendor. This will help you to evaluate almost 60% of their work potential.

Negotiate at least for 2 weeks’ trial run with the team and judge on the following pre-defined criteria: design, code quality, rate of productivity, how they solve a challenging tech problem, communication overhead and agile values.

You don’t need to share the entire product with a team. You can just share a limited version of the product required and ask them to build a new user story on top of this limited product with 2-3 member team. You can pick a user story that is preferably an already built feature in your product which will help you to compare and evaluate.

Observe their performance at each level: from planning a sprint to designing and building a feature. Through this process, you can judge the team’s ability to understand the specs, the communication overheads, design skills, coding standards, agile processes adherence, the team’s approach while tackling non-functional requirements and the visibility that you get daily/weekly/monthly.

It is suggested that you do this trial run for around 2 weeks with a couple of OPD Partners. This will be able to help you to figure out which of your prospects can provide you with the best team and is capable of giving you the maximum ROI.

Proof Of Concept:

The POC (Proof of Concept) is another good way to select an OPD Partner. A POC can help you judge the efficiency of your vendor in solving problems at the architectural level. Through a POC, you can evaluate around 40% of their capabilities. A POC can be of two kinds: Unpaid and Paid.

* Unpaid POC: Unpaid POC helps you to play the safe game. You can evaluate the capability of your vendor in solving one of your problem statements. And this evaluation won’t cost you a single penny.

* Paid POC: A small cash outlay for a long term’s security is money well spent. Getting a paid POC done from a shortlisted set of technology partners works better for both parties. Not only do you get to evaluate a technology partner more objectively, but it gives them a better incentive to perform as well.

Typically, a POC is for the base architecture of your product or a challenging problem of your product that you want the prospective OPD partner to solve. Based on their solution, you can judge the technical capability of the outsourcing team.

The POC might look like an easy alternative to the trial run but you also need to consider a POC’s limitations over a trial run, as mentioned below:

1. Team working on your product might vary from the team working on the product.

2. It is difficult to evaluate end to end capability using POC as it focuses on one of the aspects of product development like solving a challenging problem or defining base architecture.

My recommendation is that you do a paid POC with a team and review their work for 1-2 weeks. This will offer you a clear insight of your tech partner’s potential.

Interview key stake-holders:

Always interview the key stakeholders like team leads and key engineers before settling for a signup. Score on the vendor criteria by talking to the guy on ground who is actually going to do your work rather than the senior management guys like CTO’s and Tech architects. With years of experience, the senior guys are proficient in selling themselves by saying the right things at the right time. But the team leads and engineers are the ones who will do the real job. Hence, interact with them to understand their potential. Doing a mini-assignment with the key engineers is also a good idea.

Don’t fall for the Estimation trap:

I have never been in favour of the estimation game, especially in a start-up scenario. When your requirements are as dynamic as they can get, where is the sense in judging technology partners based on how they have estimated work packages for you? I would advise the practice of putting price tags on technical capabilities rather than just following the lowest bid.

In your conversation with the prospective OPD partner always try to gauge their tech capabilities. Understand the complexity of systems they have built from scratch (and not just maintained), hard problems they have solved, innovations the team made, any development accelerators/reusable components that they have built that will speed up your development effort. In addition, understand the development process they follow. Agile is a widely abused word and it is important to understand if they really understand and follow Agile. Analyse if the processes that the OPD Partner is about to setup would achieve the following –

1. High level project milestones are met

2. Architecture and code integrity is maintained

3. Agile values are being adhered to in the team

4. You get good visibility into product development activities

An outsourced team who has been selected through the above mentioned practices, will stand the maximum chance of being eligible for creating a path-breaking product for your company and solving any kind of tech challenges. Hope, this blog will assist you to find the Best OPD Partner for your product development. All the Best!


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