Pros and cons

In-house vs firm for your software build

Miles Oliveira
© Shutterstock / olesia_g

When building custom software, businesses are faced with the major decision of either hiring a developer who will work in-house or outsourcing the work to a software development firm with a full cadre of designers and programmers. Both options have their pros and cons, but it’s important to make the right decision.

Building custom software is a time-consuming and expensive process, not to mention something that you want to execute correctly the first time around. Of course, the success of the project will depend on the team chosen to develop it. When building custom software, businesses are faced with the major decision of either hiring a developer who will work in-house or outsourcing the work to a software development firm with a full cadre of designers and programmers.

Both options have their pros and cons, but it’s important to make the right decision and understand the kind of work your business will receive, and the dynamic of the relationship with either option. Ultimately, the choice can make or break a project, so it’s important to be informed before beginning a build. Let’s compare:

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The case for in-house

Directly hiring a developer or development team on staff is a great option with a variety of benefits. An in-house developer is typically accessible and easy to communicate with. Even in a remote work environment, you can typically count on garnering a quick response to questions about the status of build from an in-house developer, due to their proximity and involvement in daily tasks. Constant communication is essential to the success of a project. It’s a clear advantage to have a developer that is easily reachable and is focused entirely on the project for your company.

Additionally, in-house developers will often be able to quickly adjust and change products based on needs. An increased line of communication allows them to be agile when dealing with bugs, code issues, or scope adjustments. With no other clients to dominate their to-do lists, in-house developers may also have a heightened level of flexibility which is crucial for getting any project across the finish line.

However, in-house developers don’t always have the same skills and capabilities of a full software development firm. There are many roles that collectively contribute to building a project (such as project managers, designers, developers, etc.) It’s difficult for one in-house developer to wear all these hats at once. One developer on staff isn’t enough to run a department efficiently. One team member who is expected to do everything related to designing, building, and deploying software is set up to fail. They’ll need management, oversight, and support. You need to have a team.

Which brings up the next problem, how often are you developing software? Do you have one project with a defined timeline, or do you have multiple ongoing projects that need constant review and update. In either case, an in-house development team might not be the right business decision.

If you have one project with a defined timeline, what happens when that project is over? What will that employee or team do for the company? At that point the project will be on maintenance with minimal updates.

The same rules apply when the company has multiple ongoing projects. Is your team equipped to handle multiple projects of varying scope, deliverables, and software skills? Do they have capacity to continue working on all of those projects simultaneously without getting behind on deadlines? That can cause to project delays (which are delayed profits).

An in-house team is great if there is one ongoing project that is essential to the business core. That team is your product team, and it makes perfect sense to grow and support that team.

The case for a software development firm

On the other side, hiring a software development firm can be a great fit, depending on your company’s goals and needs. A team of dedicated engineers, project managers, and designers can typically be relied upon to professionally execute a build due to their wealth of experience and involvement with large teams. It’s also likely that developers in a firm will adhere to industry best practices and create projects that are most relevant and utilize modern frameworks.

Additionally, outsourced software developers are legally bound to a project, quelling any fears around a build disappearing or being held hostage. There is security in the fact that a build is in the hands of a professional that is legally and professionally committed to the result.

Of course, outsourcing a software build can be expensive and you can rest assured that the firm will provide a realistic estimate for the cost of a build. However, the cost of hiring, training, and retaining in-house developers could prove to be just as expensive, if not more. When outsourcing, keep in mind that you are now their temporary employer and must monetarily prepare for the same investment as you do with your own employees, but only on a project-to-project basis.

It’s also important to remember that when hiring a software firm, communication is essential. If you aren’t meeting weekly (or more often) with the development team, the success of the project could be jeopardized. It can be a challenge to communicate consistently with an external development team, but it’s necessary to maintain frequent meetings to ensure maximum collaboration and, quite frankly, to keep everyone accountable.

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Choosing between in-house developers and a software engineering firm can be a tough decision, depending on project scope and budget. There are benefits to both, and it’s important to choose the option that will facilitate a successful build the first time around. It’s vital to carefully plan, research, and vet both in-house and firm developers before making the decision.


Miles Oliveira

Miles Oliveira is the Business Development Manager for Buildable, a Custom Software Development firm based in McMinnville, Oregon. He is passionate about solving problems through technology enablement for companies large and small. He is always looking for new ways to solve problems, new technologies to implement, and the next big idea that leads to the best return on investment for his clients. In his spare time, you can find him working on the farm with his wife and their two dogs.

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