Charities don’t often hire tech partners. It’s not our forte. However, it’s probably the most influential decision your Tech for Good project will make. Find the right partner and everything else becomes easier.
Imagine a kick-arse digital service. It’d be a reflection of your organisation’s vision and mission delivered in a way that people can easily use to improve their lives.
But equally it’ll be a reflection of your tech partner’s design skills and web development talents. A reflection of their ability to combine your insight, your users’ needs and their knowledge and experience.
Now think about how much care you put into developing your organisation’s vision and mission statement. That’s how much care you need to put into finding your tech partner.
What is a tech partner?
Good question. Let’s nail a definition first. How’s this:
“They don’t only build websites. Tech partners create the design, functionality and code for digital products. They structure the back end of your product and build dynamic features based on your user’s needs”?
That’s a nice techy description. But it doesn’t describe the quality of togetherness that makes a true partnership. Try this:
“You and they are a team that delivers services digitally. Between you, you’ll discover and understand user needs, then together do the design and development of software to fulfil those needs, and then test it to see how it can be improved.”
Harry Harrold, Product Manager, Neontribe
Not only is a kick-arse tech partner skilled technically skilled but they are also good at collaborative working. Simples.
It’s probably the most important decision you’ll make
We’ve just asked seven previous grantees what made the biggest difference to their project. Their most common answer was the relationship with their tech partner. With that in mind here’s eight traits to look for when you go partner hunting.
1. They’ve done this before
It’s not first time they’ve been asked to develop a digital product. They may not be experts but they should have some tangible, measurable previous results to show.
These results are more important than awards won or a nice looking portfolio of websites. Don’t be swayed by what looks good; instead be swayed by functionality and evidence of impact.
2. They talk about you more than themselves
The right partner will give you a good feeling about them. You’ll feel like they are good at listening, because they are. They will ask questions more than talking about themselves. They’ll be concerned to check if they are actually the right people to deliver your project.
- Be genuinely interested and curious in the problem you’re solving
- Expect to be involved in the user research process
- Want to get under the skin of your organisation
- Be happy to offer similar previous clients you can talk to
3. They work Agile
While Agile isn’t the only approach to product development it is the most common, and versatile, approach. So, unless there’s a good reason not to, look for a partner who uses agile methods.
Most prospective partners will say they are happy to use agile methods but ask for examples of how they’ve done it previously. Ask them how they feel about:
- Not specifying all features up front
- Building very simple prototypes
- Developing one feature at a time rather than many in tandem
If they seem comfortable and confident then the signs are good.
4. They’ve got design expertise on hand
Designers do much more than making things look good. They bring rigour and insight to the user research and testing process and understand product interaction and user experience. Good ones know how to communicate with developers.
Your project needs a designer. Remember too that developers aren’t the same as designers.
5. They won’t only do what you tell them to
You don’t want development rebels. But you do want devs who can think for themselves and offer insight, feedback and a critical opinion of your vision and plans. They will:
- Understand the problem you’re trying to solve
- Show empathy for your users (inspired by user research)
- Bring problem solving skills to the table
- Rationally explain recommendations they make
Collaboration builds better tech so it’s really important that your devs do these four things. However, if most of the time you’re telling them what to build then collaboration isn’t happening.
6. You get direct access to a product person
Web design agencies tend to use a ‘client manager’ to manage relationships with their clients. All contact goes through that manager.
But developing a product requires a more collaborative approach. You should expect direct access to a product manager type person and possibly the dev team too. Your product person will help you combine your collective insight and tackle complex challenges together.
7. They’re aware of your different working style and tempo
This awareness is perhaps the hardest thing to find in a tech partner. There aren’t that many with experience of building digital services with charities. Likewise, if you’re reading this you may not have much experience working with a tech partner.
But don’t worry, it’s OK for this awareness to be a work in progress. If your partner is up for following the better service principles, and in turn you’re committed to trying out an agile approach, then you’ll be on the way to finding a combined style and tempo.
8. They aren’t charging you peanuts
Like most of life, in web development you get what you pay for. Sure, it’s nice to get a charity discount but rates shouldn’t be so low that your work gets de-prioritised or delivered sub-standard. Expect your developers to be nice folk and motivated by your social mission. But also expect to pay decent rates and receive decent services.
Go forth and find
Here’s a few tech partners who have been involved in previous Tech for Good projects. We aren’t able to make recommendations but do check them out for ideas of the kind of partners to look for.
When you find your partner, use this detailed conversation guide to have an honest and open conversation about the fine aspect of how you’ll work together.