How to Hire an Effective External Development Team

So, you’ve decided that hiring an external development team is the best option for your business: You could benefit from the scalability, value, and peace of mind that an external team can offer, but now you face the headache of hiring one. In order to get the value you’re searching for in a development partner, you need to make sure you pick the right one. They must have all the requisite technical skills and be able to communicate and work effectively within your company. It can take weeks, maybe months to find the right match.

Hiring an external development group can be an overwhelming process. In our 20+ years of experience screening remote teams, we have come to understand some of the most important questions to consider and what type of answers to look for. Ask these questions in your interviews to help you quickly identify external teams that will not only perform technically but can be good partners and lead to your success.

Identifying Candidates

How do you get started building an external team? Depending on your experience with software development, you may or may not have some leads to start with. Starting from scratch, many businesses turn to Google; you could simply search “software development companies in my city.” This will give you somewhere to start, but don’t just go with the first name on the list. Here are some things to keep in mind while filtering through the pages of results.


Look for groups that have experience in the industry. This applies to both the employees and the company itself. An old company filled with young developers may not have the years of experience under their belt that you think they have, while a young company with senior individuals may not have their business processes sorted out. You should look for a company that has been in the software development industry for a while and has attracted experienced talent.

Case Studies

Experience is not the end-all be-all, though. Talented people can accomplish amazing things in a short amount of time, and others can accomplish nothing in ten years. One way that external software development companies can show that they have the success to back up their experience (or compensate for lack thereof) is through case studies.

These short documents outline previous projects that their teams have worked on. Not only can they assure you that they know what they’re doing in general, but you can also use case studies to see if they have experience working with a similar project or problem that you are looking to hire for. The case studies should include an overview of the problem faced, solution provided, technologies implemented, and some indication of the results or benefits of the project. A good case study should also include quotes from the customer, so you can get a sense of how they worked together.


Like case studies, references can tell you that a development group has had successful partnerships before. This is also a way to find candidates outside of Google: if you know someone who has hired an external team before, ask them about who they hired and their experience with them. Often, word-of-mouth referrals can be more reliable than algorithms. You want to find real people that have had positive experiences with a development company in order to be confident in what they will deliver.

Regardless of where you got their name, demand references. Not just one or two, but many. As above, you want a company that has been in business awhile. And if they have, they should have plenty of references to choose from. If a company doesn’t have any, or has just a couple, that’s a huge red flag. Are there only 2 or 3 customers that are happy enough with this company to talk about their experience? Look for a company that’s willing to give you a dozen or more references – and gives them to you, quickly and easily.

Questions for Candidates

Once you’ve made a short list of candidates to work with, you’ll start having discussions with them. Of course, you’ll want to sort out things like budget, timeline, and other technicalities, but before you get to that, consider asking them some of these questions.

Q: What is your on-time delivery rate? What about your on-budget delivery rate?
If a development group quotes you a low price, that’s great, but it only means something if you are confident the price won’t spike once you start working with them. An external team is also meant to ease your stress, not add to it, so it’s important that you can be confident they will deliver on time. A price that’s half the cost of a competitor may sound great – but if they fail to deliver, not only is your time and money lost, but your market opportunity may be lost as well.

Be sure to ask how they track their on-time and on-budget delivery rates. You want to understand what they consider success to make sure it aligns with your criteria for success. For example, an on-time arrival for a flight is based on when the plane touches down. Anyone who travels knows there is a big difference in “wheels on the ground” and “passengers leaving the plane.”

Answer: The industry average for on-time and on-budget delivery is only about 30% for software development projects, so it is crucial to check the track record of the group you are thinking of partnering with.

Q: How do you make your estimates?
As in the previous question, you want to know that the estimate you are given is reflective of the rate that you will end up paying. One group may estimate a lower cost for the same amount of work as another group, but rather than taking that at face value, be sure to investigate why groups charge for what they do. It would be wisest to go with the group that puts a lot of time and effort into making their estimates, because those are the ones you can rely on. If the estimate is not based on detailed requirements, it’s also likely you’ll face scope creep, losing even more time.

Answer: Read our blog on how to make an estimate for more details – but look for a group that can break down their estimate into many smaller parts. Too many teams will stick a finger in the air and pull an estimate out of a hat. After all, they may figure, when they’ve burned through your budget and need more, will you really just stop?

Q: Who are the team members that we will be working with?
In order to get the most out of an external team, you want to make sure that you will be provided with a team configured for your needs. Avoid groups that give a vague answer about hiring “the best” developers for your project and look for those that can outline the different roles that their team can fill. You will do best with a team made up of not just developers, but also managers, testers, and more. It is important to know that you will get a team custom-tailored to your needs, not just random developers.

Answer: Expect an outline of a full team that is reflective of your needs.

Q: What type of testing do you do?
If the software development group you hire does not incorporate extensive testing into their development process, there is no way to guarantee that the code will run effectively once your new system has gone live. You should expect that the programs developed for you have undergone a wide range of testing during the development process, not just after.

Answer: Look for companies that focus on things like test-driven development, automated testing, and can provide a detailed answer to this question.

Q: How involved will I be?
This is a good question for an agency, but also important to reflect on yourself: know how much you want to be involved. If you’re looking to hire an external team from a software development company, you probably expect them to handle most of the management, meaning you can be relatively hands-off. However, even if you’re not managing the project, you’ll inevitably want to make sure things are on track. You should look for a team that can provide you with regular updates about the product, and incorporate with you and your team as deeply as necessary without you having to micromanage. Think about your software development project like a custom home building project – you do not want to tell them when and where to hammer or cut, but you do want to have a regular walkthrough to see the progress as the house is being built.

Answer: A team that can run independently without leaving you in the dark is typically the best option. Listen for answers that emphasize transparency, but not those that will require a heavy hand.

How to Select an External Team

If you are looking to hire an external team from a software engineering company, that means you don’t just want a few offshore developers to manage on your own. You’re looking for a development group that can give you the whole package: management, talent, flexibility, and peace of mind.

It can be intimidating handing over a project to another team, so you want to make sure you’re making the right decision. Ask around for recommendations, do research, and ask candidates probing questions. If you have any questions for us about how Calavista can provide you with a Development Group in a Box™, email us at

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