Vendor Assessment with the Joel Test

Working with offshore development teams doesn’t have the benefit of seeing the team in person. However, the trade-off is being able to work with talent outside your geographic area to literally find the best fit on Earth.

I’ve been working with offshore developers for the last 30 years. For the last 10 years, I’ve used the Joel Test as a way to select the best offshore development team before even seeing a line of code.This simple test makes it easy to separate productive teams from those that may not even know what they’re doing wrong, much less how to fix the problem.

The Joel Test, in a Nutshell: 

In the end, you can have a bit of brilliant code, but if your team can’t build on their momentum and avoid snags and pitfalls, then you won’t have a solid app or program. The Joel Test,developed in 2000 by software programmer Joel Spolsky, is a pragmatic list of 12 questions to ask as software development team in order to determine its productivity and adaptability. The test is brilliant in its simplicity; the questions aren’t actually about coding itself, but rather organization and agility. Yet, the answers to the following 12 questions reveal how likely the team will make good code:

    1. Do you use source control?

    2. Can you make a build in one step?

    3. Do you make daily builds?

    4. Do you have a bug database?

    5. Do you fix bugs before writing new code?

    6. Do you have an up-to-date schedule?

    7. Do you have a spec?

    8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?

    9. Do you use the best tools money can buy?

    10. Do you have testers?

    11. Do new candidates write code during their interview?

    12. Do you do hallway usability testing?

A top-notch software team will have a score of 12. A good team has a score of 11, and anything below 10 is asking for trouble. 

Breaking Down the Joel Test:

Questions 1 – 4: The first four questions are purely organizational. The answer to each of these questions must be “yes.” Accidents will happen, but a good team accepts this and knows how to bounce back quickly.

Questions 5 -7: These three questions have to do with timing and sound decision-making. Clients want their product by a specific time, and developers need guidelines to prioritize what goes into the software to get it out on time, bug-free.

Questions 8 – 10: Yesses to these three questions show that the programmers are at their most productive, with the client’s money going to actual coding as much as possible.

Questions 11 – 12: These questions essentially ask the development team if it’s practical and focused on actually making code that works, not just shipping products.

Vendor shopping is like teaching a group of students to ski: the student with the shiny new equipment may not even be ready for the hill, while the kid in his brother’s hand-me-downs may leave the others in the dust. If you want to predict who has it and who needs work,don’t ask them to start moving. Watch how they handle their equipment. I’ll ask the 12 Joel Test questions before asking about pricing, scheduling, and features. There’s no bargain, lightning speed shipping, or free features to make up for foundational organizational dysfunction.

The Joel Test for Third Party Vendors: Does Your Vendor Use It?

I’ve been building apps for entrepreneurs since 2007. They know their markets, and they know what they want. One of the greatest benefits of working with a dedicated offshore team is saving my clients money while providing them the best software development experience. However, no client wants to go through a process of trial and error to find a great team, much less pay someone else to go through the software development kingdom looking for the fair team to fit into their glass slipper. I found my team using the Joel Test, and they’ve continuously delivered exceptional quality apps for a variety of clients.


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