Welcome to our Outsourcing Academy series of blog posts – all the things you wanted to know about outsourcing but were too afraid to ask!
In this series, we’ll be addressing the main pain points for working with outsourced software development teams and sharing real industry insider information so you can avoid the mistakes and reap the full benefits of a well-managed remote team relationship.
As a startup company looking to outsource your software development needs, you can consider different business models: internal teams, regionally local contractors, offshore partners, or some kind of mix of the above.
Each has their own benefits, but offshore software development teams will usually deliver the greatest cost saving, which can be essential to a new enterprise. Often startup investors can refuse to offer finance unless they see the best bottom line, and this can mean your dream does not get off the ground unless you turn to outsourcing.
We’ll discuss time zone hassles, quality assurance snafus, and attitude problems. But first, we discuss how to avoid rocky communications when you work on opposite sides of the world.
Save your outsourced software development from communications failures!
Failures in communications are amplified when working with a team that is physically distant. Many issues that would normally be resolved by simply wheeling your chair over to a colleague’s desk take a lot longer. You don’t have visibility of the situation that might be taken for granted with an internal team.
An industry insider’s experience
“We had a year long re-entry process to stop working with outsource partners as there were numerous issues from quality of work, customer service and people just disappearing for periods of time with no comms.”
– Paul S.
As can be seen from the above quote, there are many problems that can come from an outsourcing software team that doesn’t communicate with you! The costs associated with pulling out of a relationship can quickly surpass the savings you were hoping for.
In the beginning was the word
Communication in these situations depend more heavily on the written word, which can lose a lot of nuance along the way. In addition, it can take a lot longer to type out your issues in an email rather than just have a quick brainstorming session – and until they reply, you can only consider one side of the conversation.
The minute you hit a certain amount of emails, (which is possibly lower than you would think!) the act of trying to dig around for the information becomes a time sink and causes errors and frustration.
Sorry, what was that?
Another problem is the spoken word when there is a difference in accent or idiom. This can even happen between native English speakers, for example, a strong Scottish accent speaking colloquially can confuse an American or even an English colleague! Now imagine if English was not your first language.
The process of repeating questions and answers can make conference calls take much longer, and has the danger of someone going off on the wrong tack thanks to a misunderstanding.
How to solve the problem
Project Management tools
Using a tool like Asana, as we do here at CDS, takes away the burden of sifting through electronic written communications. With Asana, you can break your project into smaller tasks, and assign these as with most other PM tools. But it also acts as a communications hub, allowing you to see which team members have interacted with the task, and allows them to leave comments on their progress and ask questions. This means rather than trying to remember what the subject of that email was, all you need to know is the task you want to monitor.
If there is nothing else you take from this, please take the need for a good PM tool!
Other team communications and project tools exist, like Slack and Trello. Many of them are even free, or at a low cost for smaller teams, and reasonable per user costs as team size increases. The most important thing is to get a sensible system in at the start.
The advent of Skype and other video conferencing software has introduced a great expansion in the possibilities of communication with remote teams. Smiles, nods, and eyerolls can instantly give you feedback that a whole paragraph may fail to do. You can maintain morale more easily between teams with a quick ten-minute stand-up meeting every morning, and the feeling of inclusivity and mutual goals are much more apparent than in a dry document, however well put together.
Body language can also help problems with accent, and can be supplemented by a quick instant message whenever there is a stumble. There is also potential for electronic learning with webcasts and similar presentations that help your teams share knowledge.
Using an internal wiki as a project knowledge base can help you stop having to repeat the same answers to the same questions over and over, and allow access to the information even when the guru for that particular area is on holiday or off sick.
Scheduling is part of communication. Use the shared team calendar in Asana, or another option such as Google calendars, so you can understand who is where, when. This will save you frustration and confusion, for example when you can’t raise anyone from the remote office because you didn’t realise it was a national holiday!
See our second post in this series for more on dealing with scheduling.
Vet the Vendor – Get the right team
Your ideal team will have extensive experience working in your kind of project with clients from your home country, respond quickly and effectively to requests for information, and keep in regular touch with you.
But how do you find out about said experience? How do you know how well they will communicate? The answer is that you must rigorously vet companies that you have not worked with before.
A personal recommendation from someone you know is a good start, but this can only go so far, as a previous project’s success does not necessarily demonstrate how well you will work together.
A thorough RFP (Request for Proposal) is another crucial step to getting the information you require to vet the vendor. Thorough contracts and an understanding of regional legal differences is also important.
If you have the capacity, visiting their local offices will give a great insight into their work culture and start the process of forming a bond that is necessary for ongoing trust.
How CDS can help
If you don’t have the time, the contacts, the experience, or the budget to find and nurture an offshore team that you are sure you will work best with, we can certainly help with that! Your main point-of-contact from CDS will be a native English speaker, with many years’ experience in managing software development projects.
If this sounds like a service that might suit you, book a free 45-minute strategy session to see how we can help you find the resources you need for startup success! Or continue with our next in the series, #2: “Time zone frustrations”.