Switching Software Development Partners: Mission Impossible or Actually Doable?

Software projects are always complex and it is not uncommon for something to go wrong. To some extent, unexpected things are natural, and if the problems can be solved reasonably, there is usually no need for major changes. However, if it becomes apparent that the collaboration is not going well, the development partner has overestimated their skills, or there are other insurmountable obstacles in the way, it might be sensible to consider changing the development partner entirely.

“Changing partners is something that is – and should be – approached with great caution. Bringing someone new on board, getting the work routine up and running, and getting to grips with all the technical nuances is a time-consuming and stressful exercise,” said Eero Tohver, CEO of Uptime. “However, if even after serious efforts with the current partner existing problems cannot be solved, choosing a new service provider is inevitable.”

However, he says it is important to think thoroughly about whether it makes sense to change partners in a particular case before making a final decision. For example, if the project in question is a software solution that is reaching the end of its life and the current partner can keep it functioning, it is probably not wise to switch even when moderate problems linger in the air. If, on the other hand, the project is still young or there are big plans for its future, but the current partner is not able to meet expectations, the case for switching is much stronger.

While there is never a perfect time to change development partners, and it may seem that if a lot of the budget has already been spent on getting something done, it makes sense to continue on the same front, it is always best to approach things rationally. Similarly, Tohver stressed that finding a new partner that has experience in steering projects that have gone wrong onto the right track, can usually make the transition process a painless one.

Experience counts

Uptime has been approached dozens of times over the past 30 years to take over a project that failed with the previous partner.

“Most of the time, it’s because the previous partner didn’t have enough development resources, particular skills, or they simply underestimated the complexity of the task. However, we, with our 200-strong team, have the necessary know-how in-house,” he said, adding that it is not uncommon either for projects to run aground with the current partner because the team is tired of the project and no longer work as hard, a key person has left the team, or the service provider decides to focus on other activities.

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Uptime has developed a clear understanding of how to take on complex projects from the halfway stage, get to grips with the scope as quickly as possible, and get to work to get the project ready for the new deadline. It’s never easy, but with decades of experience, we’ve yet to encounter insurmountable problems.

Tohver explained that the most important thing when taking over a project started by someone else is to understand where things really stand, the scale of the problems, the validity of the approaches taken so far, and how much needs to change to avoid a similar situation happening again. “Today’s situation needs to be mapped out on both the technical and business side – understanding what functionality is there and what is missing, and assessing whether the approach taken so far can realistically be developed further, or whether the technology side also needs an overhaul,” he explained.

Some easier, some harder

“While in some cases the takeover is fairly easy, other times you need to undertake a more serious overhaul, or even start from scratch in more complex cases. It’s important that both our expectations and the client’s are aligned. Everyone needs to understand what the real situation is at the moment, what options are on the table, what risks need to be mitigated, and what the way forward might look like,” he said.

“Starting from scratch on a major project is not pleasant, but sometimes it is inevitable. Even if you had continued with the same development partner for a while, you would have reached that point sooner or later. Now it’s just sooner, without spending too much time or money,” Tohver added.

In order to accurately gauge what lies ahead, Uptime invests enough time to get to know what has been done before taking over the project. The aim is to understand what the reality is and what to expect in the future. 

“Our aim is to give the client as honest and straightforward an assessment as possible of what the current situation is, how things could be taken forward, how long it would take, and how much it would cost,” said Tohver.

It is also worth bearing in mind that, where possible, it is best to give preference to partners with experience. “Starting in the middle of a project is much harder than starting at the beginning. It requires a bit of in-depth knowledge, experience, and courage. Which we have,” he added.

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