You Can Learn A Lot From A Dummy

There is a commonly recurring mistake I see in the world of software product development. This is how the scenario often plays out:

An entrepreneur new to software takes some money and a product idea and makes a particularly fateful decision that will return to haunt him. Perhaps a year later, and perhaps $100k poorer, he re-emerges worse for the wear. To show for it, he has a trash-heap of a product that is slow, a bad user experience, full of bugs, and nearly impossible to maintain. Every attempt to update or make it better costs more and takes longer. Worse yet, there is a high probability that he will need to invest a significant expense in order to salvage or redo the product the right way.

What was the fateful mistake? He gave-in to the siren’s call of cheap off-shore software development. He bought into the idea that you can get $150/hr worth of value out of $12/hour off-shore labor. In the real world it will take him months to discover he actually has a problem. Often the realization may come only after a few cycles of firing one and hiring another off-shore team to try and fix the problems of the previous, only to encounter the same issues all over again. There might be a final moment of realization once he has blown through so much time and money. So many others have made this mistake that it should be learned from without having to experience it first-hand.

The take away:

  • You really do get what you pay for. Worst of all, paying less in this type of scenario actually ends up costing more in the long run. You end up paying much more in time, money, and energy. Everything has a cost - especially cheap off-shore software development.

  • There is only one kind of cheap software - the kind you don’t want. In this regard, software development is like breeding horses for horse-shows. No haircut or fancy trick will hide the fact that your horse is malnourished and untrained.

  • Remember the old crash-test dummy commercial — “You can learn a lot from a dummy.” Learn your lesson from the mistakes of others - those who play the dummy in these repeating situations found out the hard way. Learn from them, and don’t get stuck in the same bad scenario.

  • Find someone with proven experience delivering great software and work with them. Look at what they’ve built. Ensure you feel good about their work, just like you would with an architect, an artist, or any craftsperson — let their previous work inform your decisions more than the promise of a low rate. You will get what you pay for.

Todd Hopkinson