8 Steps to Finding a Successful Product Development Partner

Joe Sonka
Published on MediumFebruary 22nd, 2024

Let’s role-play! You’re a Chief Digital Officer or VP of Product at a mid- to large-sized organization. You have 12 months to release an MVP of your new app on iOS and Android. Sounds like a lot of time, right? But there is a catch: you either don’t have the talent in-house, or you don’t have the bandwidth in-house, and don’t have an outside product development partner yet. That search process and the success of finding the “right” partner on the first attempt will likely make or break your ability to hit your timeline goals. Sound familiar?

There is no silver bullet to guarantee success in that first partnership, but there are a few considerations to give yourself the best chance to find the right partner fit on the first attempt.

Questions to ask yourself:

1. Have they done it before?

What does their track record show? How many relevant examples do they have? How recently (or frequently) have they done this type of work?

Practice makes better, so experience in both breadth and depth is critical. An organization that has well-refined philosophies and strategies can successfully apply those to any industry — that’s really what makes examples relevant. Don’t find yourself in they’ve-never-done-my-exact-situation paralysis.

2. Are they speaking your language?

Spoken language aside, the point here is do you jive with their communication style? Good communication begets good partnerships. It may seem minor initially, but the style, frequency and general tone of communication can grow a relationship or be something that festers and eventually sours a long-term partnership.

3. Will they say no?

Will they say what part or parts of your initiative they aren’t best suited for? Are they respectfully pushing back, or are they just “yes” people? Are they upfront about timelines and capacity or just trying to get your signature to “figure it out later”?

Being honest and transparent are your best friends before, during and after any successful partnership. If they thrive in the difficult conversations up front, and demonstrate an ability to overcome hurdles with relevant, creative solutions, imagine how applicable that will be deeper into the partnership.

4. Have they built a great company culture?

Take a gander at the tenure of their staff. Retention is one of the best indicators of “they are who they say they are”. There is no one more critical than the team/staff of the partner you are about to hire.

5. Do they stand for something?

When stress might be peaking or the going is tough, the highest performing teams focus back on their “roots”. Those operating principles are likely how they’ve maintained success, and as such, are the surest way to ensure success in high stakes situations.

6. Do they have a well-defined process?

This is the “playbook”. Teams that stick to it and maintain consistency and reliability generally find themselves in fewer surprising situations. Accepting that unknowns will almost always rear their head, lowering your odds of finding them is a huge deal. You’re trying to release an MVP; a seasoned and tested process is imperative to get there. If you see signals that they’re willing to cut corners or waver on their own process, that can be a sign of risk for future success.

7. Are they active in the community?

Any company active in the community (sponsorships, talks, writing, mentoring, etc.) is one that values and cares deeply about protecting its reputation. They’ve forged, strengthened and expanded relationships, and through that they’ve become “known”, removing any ability for a veil or smoke and mirrors. They have a vested interest in a reputation that precedes themselves. That’s the type of confidence you want in your corner.

8. What do they ask of you?

After presenting your vision to a prospective partner, what kinds of questions do they ask you? Do their questions dwell on the surface, or do they probe deeper and get into the essence of your product plans? Do their questions trigger further questions for you, that you may not have even thought of yet? You can tell a lot about a potential partner’s depth and critical thinking by the questions they ask of you.

So, as you move through your evaluations, remember you aren’t only selecting a development partner, you are ultimately selecting a thought partner. Through the lenses listed above, take the time to evaluate how thoughtfully they show up in those first few interactions with you. Ideally, this is a process that you won’t need to repeat again for many years to come, so invest the time needed to really make sure you are choosing a partner worthy of your trust. It’s an investment that has deep and lasting ROI (not just monetarily) if you get it right.

Joe puts the partner in partnerships at Livefront.

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