What Is Important When Outsourcing Offshore?

Recently, I saw the question, “To what country would you recommend outsourcing an IT project?” When thinking about outsourcing offshore, that is the wrong question!

Regardless of the country, when you outsource at the project level, you must remain engaged with the project and the implementation team. I  recommend some form of Agile approach in that you should require numerous short term deliverables  demonstrating the team is moving the project in the direction you intended. Set up regular conference calls so you can ask questions and the team can ask you questions. Approach it like a virtual scrum.

There is, I believe, a tendency for any outsourcing vendor to over promise. Add to this that in many cultures, acknowledging that something asked was not understood would mean losing face.  That can lead to paralysis on the project team’s part as they internally debate what you really were asking for, or worse, a complete misinterpretation and incorrect direction. See the first paragraph regarding keeping involved!  :)

Don’t be afraid to ask the team leader to restate in his/her own words what you’ve asked, said, written, etc. Don’t say, “do you understand” and settle for “yes” as an answer. But don’t be condescending either … you are outsourcing because you believe you can get bright, well trained people at lower cost. Don’t fall into the trap that because the team’s English is different, or not their native language, that you are somehow better. You might be surprised how often this happens, and how counterproductive it is.

In addition to keeping highly involved and requiring frequent interim deliverables, you must provide as detailed a set of specifications as possible. As language will inevitably cause misunderstandings, make sure you avoid idioms and cultural contextual references in any written requirements. Try to use tools such as sequence diagrams and flow charts to communicate your requirements.

Match the capabilities and structure of the vendor being hired for an outsourced project to the work to be done. If you are dealing with time to market issues and the application can be “fixed on the fly” then don’t hire an SEI CMM Level 5 shop. Find a shop that “gets” the iterative approach. On the other hand, if you are outsourcing an application that involves tracking other people’s money, or something life-critical, you probably should look for a Six Sigma Blackbelt shop. I certainly would not want my car’s brake software built on the fly!

In summary, the country doesn’t matter.  The vendor’s alignment to the project, and your involvement as the stakeholder are what matters.

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