Top 5 Offshore Development Best Practices – 2017 Edition
Most tech executives have learned that software outsourcing is the way of the future. However, many companies struggle to determine the best practices for offshore development.
At its best, outsourcing supercharges productivity while saving time and costs. Some of today’s most innovative work in software development is being done in countries like Ukraine, India, and Vietnam at the behest of corporations in the United States, Israel, and Europe.
According to the 2016 Deloitte Global Outsourcing Survey, more and more companies view outsourcing as a means to innovation just as much as a cost-cutting measure. Survey respondents included enterprise-level corporations ranging from $1 billion to $25 billion USD in annual revenue, and 35% of them indicated they are already seeking and finding innovation in their outsource relationships.
This is a sea change in what outsourcing means. It’s no longer just a way to cut costs. It’s an essential part of keeping a technological edge. More than ever, companies new to the outsourcing market need to get the relationship right, from the get-go.
The tricky part is knowing just how to do that. It means gaining a solid understanding of both how to select a remote team and how to manage it.
Consultants specialize in guiding companies through this process, but knowledge is power. It’s always a good idea to educate oneself as far as possible.
Clearly Define Your Offshore Software Development Goals
Even more so than local employees, an offshore team must be given clear, actionable goals. Remember that an external development team is just that: external. Offshore developers almost never have the same view and insight into your business goals as local personnel.
Therefore, it’s vital to clearly communicate exactly what is required of the outsourced team. There can be no room for error or misunderstanding.
An excellent approach to goal setting is the SMART system. First developed in 1981, SMART has remained one of the most enduring ways to create and manage successful projects.
SMART is an acronym that states every project goal must be:
- Specific – Define the goal as precisely as possible.
- Measurable – Ensure the goal is one whose success can be measured and verified. Know the metrics to target, and know the levels they need to reach.
- Achievable (or Agreed-Upon) – Impossible, “shoot for the stars” goals are counterproductive.
- Relevant – Goals should align with the overall business strategy.
- Timely – Set a deadline for every project and goal. Say “When”, as well as “What”.
SMART applies both to strategic goals and to individual projects. Formulating your instructions in these terms is one of the top best practices for offshore development.
Carefully Select Your Outsourcing Partner
Choosing the right team is one of the most important contributors to successful offshore development. The talents and skills of the offshore team are obviously the foundation of their work product, but there are other considerations, too.
The nuances of selecting a development house could take up an entire article (and have!). It’s well worth taking the time to explore all options and evaluate all contenders. That said, here are a few basic tips to keep in mind.
- Bigger Isn’t Always Better: Choose a partner of an appropriate size to your own firm. An outsource partner much bigger than your own company can be counterproductive. Price isn’t everything.
- Set Yourself Up for Communication Success: Choose a team that you can easily communicate with. A common language is crucial, and so are similar time zones and, often, geographic proximity. For example, Ukraine makes a great place for Israeli companies to outsource. They’re in the same time zone, they’re only a short plane trip apart, and both English and Russian are widely spoken in both countries.
- Check References: Offshore development is a big investment in time and resources. Don’t waste your time with a partner that can’t back up their claims with real results. Ask for client references you can contact and check.
An outsourced team isn’t a “fire-and-forget” solution. Although a good partner can work independently, the best practices for offshore development include a healthy dose of collaboration. Your local employees should work in close tandem with the remote developers to achieve business goals.
That said, it is entirely possible to have too many cooks. The most successful firms utilizing offshore development assign a dedicated product manager to act as the primary point of contact between the two teams. That way, workers can stay on the same page without getting in each other’s way.
Technology can help with communication, as well. Implement a good collaboration software suite, like G Suite or Slack. When local employees need to check in with each other, they can stand up and walk across the office. That’s not an option over international borders, so tech needs to fill the gap.
This is also why it’s so important to choose an outsource partner in a compatible time zone. If one team needs to ask a question of the other, it’s often not practical to wait a day for the answer. Choosing an offshore team with overlapping business hours will help you avoid costly delays down the road.
Remote workers aren’t robots. Just as with local employees and contractors, the best work is done by people who feel invested and engaged in their job. Maximizing the effectiveness of an outsourced team involves recognizing their input and success, as well as holding them accountable for roadblocks and problems.
Here are some offshore development best practices for keeping remote workers feeling like “part of the team”.
- Frequent Check-ins: Hold regular status meetings, via video conference if possible. Studies prove again and again that seeing a face, even on a screen, leads to vastly improved engagement and understanding than audio or text. A weekly status call will do wonders to keep everyone on track.
- Occasional In-Person Meetings: When possible, perhaps once or twice per year, the product manager and CTO or similar should go to visit the offshore development team at their offices. This remains the single best means of communication. It will keep offshore personnel feeling “in the loop”, and allow your team to fully understand their workflow.
- Appreciate the People: Make the effort to foster a good relationship with the offshore team. Include them in company-wide status updates and calls as appropriate. Be sure to keep them apprised of major milestones and breakthroughs, especially if the remote workers contributed to that success.
In short, remember the human element. It’s arguably even more important for workers who you don’t see in person.
Integrating Offshore Development into the Workflow
Contracting with an outsourced team can be one of the most effective ways to boost the speed of software development. However, outsourcing is a tool like any other. It’s capable of great things, but only when it is used correctly.
Project management techniques have evolved and advanced in recent years, particularly with the popularization of Agile and its cousin Scrum. Agile is particularly well-suited for working with offshore developers. Its emphasis on fast iteration and constant testing is a natural fit with the frequent communication needed to manage a remote team.
Experience at Ignite Outsourcing has shown that an Agile framework with three-week sprints leads to excellent results. Delivering executable code every three weeks means that tangible progress is made in each sprint, while still allowing the local team to keep an eye out for deviations from the roadmap or unforeseen complications.
Fortunately, Agile is already very commonly used in tech firms worldwide. If you’re reading this article, then you’re likely already familiar, or your project managers are. If not, it might be worth your time to investigate. One of our team members has previously published a solid overview of Agile’s benefits.
The Best Practices for the Best Results
It bears repeating that outsourcing is not a simple prospect. Get it wrong, and you risk wasting far more time and money than you hoped to save. By taking care up front to select your team, define their projects, and create the workflow to support them, you help ensure that your development efforts are a success.
These have been a few top-level best practices for offshore development. Every scenario is different, and every business has its own unique strengths and needs. For more in-depth help, I recommend consulting directly with an outsourcing expert. They can help every step of the way, from focusing the internal dialog on outsourcing needs, to finding the right partner, to setting up a productive collaboration between your local office and the remote team.