There are hundreds of Ruby on Rails agencies out there. If you’re looking to outsource your web app development to one, you’ve likely done your fair share of Googling along the way so far. After a while, they may start to look the same. Every agency has the same type of website – raving testimonials, an impressive list of clients, and maybe a couple of cute dogs on their team page.
We don’t say that to be snarky – we’re one of those agencies, too. That’s why we don’t envy anyone responsible for researching and vetting a new development agency for their Ruby on Rails app – it’s a tough job!
We want to provide you some of the insights we’ve learned along the way to help make that job easier. From discussing hundreds of projects over the last 14 years, we’ve learned a lot about what makes for productive conversations with prospective clients. Here’s a helpful guide to researching, vetting, and hiring the best Rails development agency for your project.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Before you schedule any calls with potential Rails agencies, here are a few questions to ask yourself to get your ducks in a row. Knowing these answers about your project will allow you to have productive conversations with the right agencies for your application.
How soon does this project need to get up and running to meet my goals?
Do you have any upcoming deadlines you need to meet that depend on your application? Conferences, project launches, or important meetings? Figure out some rough timelines that you’ll need to meet with this application so you can discuss them with a potential dev partner.
What’s my development budget for this application – and for support and maintenance?
How much can you spend on a development agency for your application? A large portion of the people that contact us about potential development projects have not identified a target budget for their app development. Even having a ballpark budget for the year will be helpful in screening out agencies that aren’t a good fit cost-wise.
What level of communication do I need from a development partner?
Some agencies have instant communication through Slack available for their clients. Others depend on a scheduled conversation. Most exist somewhere in the middle. It’s important that your communication style aligns with whatever agency you choose to partner with. You don’t want to feel left in the dark on progress, but you may not want to get pinged on Slack around the clock, either.
How involved do I want to be in the day-to-day project discussions?
There’s a level of trust that correlates to how available you’ll need to be “in the weeds” on a project with the development agency you choose. If this app is a big part of your day-to-day workload at your company, you’ll be accessible and can guide a team more directly. But if this app is one of a hundred things you juggle in your role, you want a team that’s a little more self-managing.
What’s the state of my app?
If you’re looking for development resources for an existing Rails app, what’s the current state of the app? How is the test coverage? What version of Rails is it running? Is there a long list of bugs? The quality of the application could influence what type of agency you decide to hire. It will also give potential partners a realistic look at your application.
Questions to Ask a Potential Agency
Now that you’ve researched dozens of agencies, you likely have to go through some sort of procurement process to further qualify these teams and eventually choose the right partner. You’ve scheduled a call with a few to see what they’re all about. Now what should you ask them?
What does your timeline for beginning a new project look like?
You likely have internal deadlines you need to meet. You want to choose a development agency who can help you meet them. If you have an aggressive timeline for getting certain development work done, ask potential agencies early how soon they can start.
What are some ballpark project or hourly rates?
You’ll likely see a wide range of cost structures and estimates (especially if you look at offshore vs. onshore development). Some price development per project while others charge an hourly rate. Our best advice here is to try not to get hung up on sticker shock initially. A lower hourly rate doesn’t matter if the team takes twice as long to complete the project as a more expensive team – and they do it half as well.
With that said, you do need to choose an agency that fits your budget, so it’s smart to talk money early in the conversation to avoid wasting your time on a team you can’t realistically afford.
How do you communicate about progress and budget?
Transparency is key in a healthy relationship with your development agency. When we speak with companies that are transitioning away from another development partner, lack of transparency is a common reason they’re exploring new options. When you’re spending thousands of dollars a month with your agency, you deserve to know where your money is going and to see results.
Ask each Rails agency how they communicate about progress on your application. If you need to demonstrate progress on projects to other stakeholders in your company, how would your development team help with that?
If the development agency works on a retainer system, it’s also helpful for you to see how much progress has been made on your monthly budget. This helps you plan for future work and ensures you aren’t wasting money with unused budget. Ask potential agencies how they communicate about budgets with their clients.
What do you think your team does particularly well?
Not every team does every kind of project well. Even agencies who specialize in Ruby on Rails projects have different opinions and preferences on the type of work they do. For example, we don’t typically partner with startups (here’s why) but there are lots of agencies out there that specialize in building MVPs. Our agency loves taking over existing Rails applications, but there are tons of developers out there that shy away from legacy code.
Are your developers on-site, remote, or offshore?
Many “US-based” Rails development agencies outsource their development to other countries to reduce cost. This is helpful if you’re on a tight budget, but also comes with some challenges due to communication latency and accessibility to your dev team. If office hour communication is important, this is something to consider.
Though the industry has come a long way with video conferencing, we’re “old school” in the sense that we understand how valuable facetime can be for developing a good relationship. If a client visits Portland for business or for fun, we want to take them out to lunch. And if we visit a client’s city for the same, we’ll meet up then too. All of our developers are based in our Portland, Oregon office – with the option to work flexibly from home as needed.
Can I talk to a few of your clients?
Don’t hesitate to ask for references from clients! An experienced agency will have references available for you to contact. You’ll have a better idea of how a team works when you speak with the companies that have collaborated with them in the past.
How to Evaluate From Here
Depending on the formality of your procurement process, you may be required to compare a certain number of agencies before making a decision. Or if you’re the decision-maker yourself, you may only really connect with one or two agencies.
We put together a helpful Google sheet template you can download to input the info from each agency. From here, you can weight and rank according to what’s important to you.
Do they seem to get your business and the challenges you face?
We’ve heard from new clients before that one of their biggest fears was wasting time and money with an agency that didn’t understand their business challenges. After one or two conversations with an experienced Rails agency, they should be able to “fill in the blanks” on what you’re looking for in your application. This likely means they can draw similarities from past projects
Do you enjoy communicating with them?
The Rails development agency you choose is (ideally) going to be communicating with you a lot. This doesn’t mean you need to want to grab a beer with them, but some connection goes a long way in getting a partnership off on the right foot. You can evaluate on hard criteria like price, but there is something invaluable about genuinely liking the people you depend on for your application.
Do their values align with yours (and your company’s)?
If you have a set of values you adhere to in your company, it’s helpful to partner with external agencies that share those values. From the agency perspective, we seek out clients that share some of our core values – curiosity, versatility, and dependability, to name a few. A shared core value set doesn’t guarantee a perfect partnership, but it’s a helpful foundation to build one on.
Hiring the right agency for your Ruby on Rails application development is a tough task. But a little bit of planning and asking the right questions can save you time and stress throughout the process.