Outsourcing has the potential to improve your business’ efficiency, reduce the time to market of your application, and result in significant cost-savings, but only if it is done correctly. There are significant risks involved in outsourcing development as well. These can negatively affect your business’ bottom line and cause projects to come crashing down before you get a chance to launch.
Crafting an effective outsourcing strategy
While outsourcing development has its set of benefits, it can quickly turn out to be detrimental to the business goals if it isn’t set up and managed in an organized manner. Let’s be real, finding a trustworthy development company to partner with you in your development efforts can be a tricky task. The task becomes even more intricate if the company outsourcing development is not a tech company.
Having worked extensively with outsourcing firms in the past and subsequently started a custom software development company, here’s our guide to some of the dos and don’ts of outsourcing software development.
Common pitfalls in outsourcing development and how to avoid them
1. Communication barriers
The biggest benefit of outsourcing development, gaining access to a global pool of talent, also creates one of the major pitfalls — issues in communication. You’ll need to overcome different time zones, languages, and cultural conventions. Establishing regular channels of communication with the outsourced team becomes of crucial importance for ensuring project success.
Effective communication is a skill, while English is merely a language. When communicating with outsourced developers, comprehension of the project requirements and clarity on the deliverables are the most important factors.
Use of collaboration tools, like Jira and Asana, regular engagement with the remote team via video or audio communication, and stand-up meetings at regular intervals, are best practices for establishing communication channels with the outsourced development team.
2. Failure in understanding the scope of the project
Before outsourcing development to a remote team, clarity on the requirements and deliverables that you expect, expected timeline to deliver, and overall scope of the project, is essential for successful outsourcing.
Failure to communicate these details may result in scope creep and misalignment on the product vision. Without resolving these issues, the software engineers will continue working in silos and there will be a widening gap between your expectations and the actual deliverables.
The groundwork has to be established by you and the features that you want to be incorporated in the app need to be clearly documented. A software requirements specification(SRS) document can be an excellent starting point that gives the development team clear insights into the requirements.
For non-tech companies, drafting this kind of document can seem daunting. I recommend using an SRS template which can help with the documentation process.
The SRS document helps you organize the essential project requirements you want the outsourced development team to be aware of when they start. The dev team then does their own work adding further detailing on it. This collaboration allows both sides to build a common plan, a shared blueprint that is established before any actual production work begins.
For example, if the application to be developed needs a signup page, the initial SRS document will only list out the signup options that need to be incorporated. Through collaboration with your software vendor, it would be wise to then add additional detail: for example to specify the functional specifications for each element on the signup page, the validation checks that need to be in place, and a list of possible scenarios that need to be covered.
Clarity in documentation is the first step in ensuring that your expectations and the deliverables that the outsourced company provides are in sync with each other.
3. Code quality challenges
Determining whether the outsourced development team is adhering to the quality standards while coding your application is a challenge that becomes amplified when you work for or run a non-tech firm without significant coding expertise. Code quality is an ambiguous term because there are arguably no strict definitions for high quality and low-quality code.
Code quality is a collection of attributes that need to be communicated with the outsourced development team. In my experience, good code needs to have two key qualities: clarity and maintainability.
Well-documented and well-tested code that follows the formatting best practices and coding conventions of the programming language the application is being written in is crucial for long-term success and bug-free execution (or as close to bug-free as anyone can reasonably expect. You can’t squash em’ all.)
Maintaining code quality when outsourcing development to offshore teams requires communication of expectations, laying down the quality benchmarks in advance, and regular briefings with the team to stay on top of the development efforts.
The team that you are outsourcing to should have checks in place to ensure consistency in code quality. Before you sign on a firm, ask if they take measures like code review (both peer-to-peer and with management), unit testing, as well as functional testing. These precautions will help ensure they have developed a robust application before releasing it to you.
An established quality assurance process with thorough application testing — including regression testing whenever any changes are made to the code and use of project management tools for logging of issues and management of backlogs — are some of the basics I recommend you look for when choosing where to outsource your work.
4. Ambiguity of stakeholders
Lack of project ownership is one of the biggest downsides of outsourcing. If the outsourcing partner that you pick employs programmers on a contractual basis and not full time, the actual project ownership becomes dicey. Back-and-forth of resources on your project can result in inconsistency on the deliverables, because there is no project leader or consistent team who is accountable for the work and present throughout the entire process.
When outsourcing development of a software project, make sure you understand who will be working on it and try to ensure that at least a few of the project managers stay consistent throughout the entire process. These are the folks who you can hold accountable, and who should be present on email threads, video calls, and other regular check-ins.
I find it’s very helpful to have a business analyst or project manager as a key stakeholder on the team. This person can act as a facilitator between you and the developers, documenting the functional specifications and breaking down the requirements to the developers.
A developer who doesn’t just write the code but is also invested in providing a stellar user experience to your customers is another asset you should look for when selecting an outsourcing partner. Finding a company who can become potential stakeholders in your project and who are committed to finding the right solutions rather than implementing quick fixes is key to successful outsourcing.
5. Loopholes when signing the contract
In the early days of a startup, handing out huge amounts of money for legal fees doesn’t seem like a viable option. But a loosely framed contract, or one that leans in favor of the contractor, may result in loopholes which can be exploited by the outsourcing company and result in severe monetary losses.
How Assemblysoft can help you avoid common outsourcing pitfalls.
Here at Assemblysoft we have extensive experience managing both onshore and offshore teams. Working remotely, across different time-zones is normal practice for us with some of our clients and development teams spread across the globe.
We act as a shield for your project by handling all the technical and non technical issues and simply providing you with a project manager you can contact at anytime to provide a detailed update on the status of your project.
We can even go further than that for you. For some of our clients we setup secure code repositories so that progress can be measured by you at any time.
The major benefit of choosing Assemblysoft as your outsourcing partner is that often there is no need to outsource as we have the developers on hand to solve the problems and capabilities to deliver the project here in the UK. If we do make use of talented developers in another part of the world, they work on very specific development tasks which are completely unrelated to your specific project. We then take these solutions, review them, often refactor them, apply testing, security and best practices around them before integrating them into your solution. This not only takes skill and experience but protects our clients intellectual property.
Outsourcing is not easy to get right. There are a lot of things to consider and you should not underestimate how much time it will take to get to the final iteration before you are satisfied with the result.
Having at least a technical project manager and technical developer to hand to manage and review change is essential.
Outsourcing can bring cost savings to a project but it can also introduce new problems that you will need to be prepared to take on.
Using a technical agency, with experience delivering software projects, working in the same language and time-zone can reduce much of the pain associated with outsourcing.