How to Read Portfolios of Software Developers

November 01, 2018

Carefully studying the portfolios of software developers can teach you a lot about a potential contractor and minimize the potential risks.

“The true success rate of IT projects is currently an abysmal 25%,” according to Agiloft research.

In other words, most projects exceed their cost and/or time budgets or even fail entirely. As a result, many companies that hire software developers lose valuable resources.

At SENLA, we have created solutions for hundreds of clients, and many of them have told us how difficult it is to find a good development team. This is a fair observation: there are thousands of companies on the market, and it can be very difficult to choose one that will successfully develop your project.

However, there is a way to minimize the risks.

Businesses need to carefully study portfolios, as they say a lot about a potential contractor. While doing this, you can often learn if your collaboration will be a success or failure.

In this article, we'll tell you what to pay special attention to while studying developers’ portfolios. You will be able to form a detailed picture of your potential contractor and then decide whether to hire the team.

Why Thorough Studying of Portfolios Is Important

Let's figure out how meticulous and smart reviewing of software developers' portfolios will help you.

Increase the Chance the Team Completes Development Without Exceeding Budget

Often, when a developer is dealing with a project in an unfamiliar industry, the client has to make many changes during the development process. This usually means that the development process will require additional money and time.

However, it will be easier for the contractor to complete your project if he or she has already worked with companies from your segment or on products like yours.

Thus, you will be able to choose a team that will most likely complete your project within the planned budget.

Increase the Chance of a High-Quality and Valuable Product

After reading the portfolio, you will understand whether the contractor’s products are of high quality and whether the contractor has sufficient competence to develop projects that meet business requirements.

In this way, you can choose an experienced and responsible team.

How to Read Portfolios Correctly

To understand whether a potential contractor is worth your time and money, you should take six specific steps.

How to Study Software Development Contractors' Portfolio

  1. Check whether the contractor has created solutions similar to yours.
  2. Check if the contractor worked with companies in your industry.
  3. Check what size companies the contractor usually deals with.
  4. Check whether the contractor mentions challenges connected with previous projects.
  5. Check if there are client quotes in the portfolio.
  6. Check the design of the portfolios.

1. Check Whether the Contractor Has Created Solutions Similar to Yours

Look through case studies on the contractor’s website to find products that are similar to yours by specificity or functionality. Read what the customer initially wanted and how the contractor implemented the project. Decide if you like the result.

If you are good at technology, pay attention to the technology stack, or the software’s programming languages, tools, and frameworks.

Technology stack

If possible, you can also try free versions of the contractors’ products to check their quality in practice.

The contractor may create not only internal products (for example, a specific CRM system for a company) but also broadly oriented services accessible to the public. In this case, you may try the product via a free demo or trial.

If the contractor has created a similar product to yours, you can get an idea of what yours will look like.

2. Check if the Contractor Worked With Other Companies in Your Industry

This will tell you if the contractor understands your business sphere and all its specifics. It is much more pleasant to deal with a team that can quickly understand the solution you need than one that does not understand your business and its industry at all.

Look for case studies where the team talks about its work with a company from your industry.

Case studies by industry

As you can see, you may not even need to open the article to see if the industry is similar to yours. It is clear what sphere we worked with just by the picture and the title.

It will be easier for you to communicate your thoughts to the team if you can confirm that it has worked with other companies in your industry.

There is a higher chance the contractor will develop a valuable product because the team knows about your pain points and is familiar with your industry.

3. Check What Size Companies the Contractor Usually Deals With

Even if the contractor worked with companies from your sphere and developed products similar to yours, this might not serve as proof of future success if the size of your company has a significant impact on the specifics of your work.

For example, even though start-ups and enterprises may work in the same sphere, their processes, marketing channels, and customers can vary significantly.

Therefore, it is best to make sure that the contractor deals with companies of your size and deeply understands the requirements.

4. Check Whether the Contractor Mentions Challenges Connected With Previous Projects

Of course, it is beneficial for each company to present its work in a positive light, but case studies that lack any descriptions of challenges the developer faces should arouse some suspicion.

We all understand that work on any project involves some challenges, and it's silly to deny this fact.

Try to deal with companies that mention problems. This will help reassure you that the company is likely to be honest, as it is not afraid to seem imperfect to potential clients.

Also, see how the team managed to overcome its challenges. This will help you learn how the team solves problems and better understand its professional level.

5. Check if There Are Client Quotes in the Portfolio

A case study without customer quotes may lack credibility.

The contractor's team can write anything it wants, and it is likely to present every project in a positive way. There is no guarantee, however, that the customer's opinion is also positive.

If there are no quotes, you could ask the potential contractor for contact details of some of its previous clients with whom you could verify credentials.

Also, you can look at the contractor’s profile on Clutch. You can get some understanding of the company through customer feedback and evaluation.

If you still do not receive confirmation of success, perhaps the team does not deserve your trust.

6. Check the Design of the Portfolios

Most likely, you pay attention to website design before hiring a service provider, and portfolios should not be an exception.

Check if the potential contractor uses sub-headers, bullets, selective bold text, and graphics to make the case study easier to read. If so, consider this an additional confirmation of the contractor’s professionalism and respect for potential clients.

For example, this is how we structure case studies:

How to structure case studies

We work to make it easier for our potential clients to navigate our articles by ordering case studies in an easy-to-understand way.

Find the Best Developer for Your Needs

Only a small number of projects are considered completely successful. This means that many companies spend large amounts of money and time for nothing.

We do not have a universal recipe for finding a contractor that will make any project go smoothly, but we can give you one piece of advice to help you increase the chances of success: Thoroughly read the portfolios of all potential software development companies before choosing which one to hire.

There are several points that are worth paying attention to. They will help you understand the general level of the contractor's professionalism and predict how promising your future collaboration will be:

  1. See if the contractor has designed solutions like the one you need.
  2. Check if the contractor is familiar with your industry.
  3. Determine whether the contractor usually deals with companies of your size.
  4. Check if the contractor describes issues connected with past projects.
  5. Check if there are client quotes in case studies.
  6. Look at the design of the contractor’s portfolios.

Our guide will help you choose a contractor that can fulfill your specific requirements. 


About the Author

Headshot of Robert AvdeevRobert Avdeev is a CMO of SENLA, a full-cycle software development company that automates the processes of startups, medium and large businesses, and Fortune 500 companies. He passionately believes in integrating sales and marketing into coordinated programs in which each activity has a defined purpose, an expected result, and ultimately leads to a measurable revenue outcome.