Outsourcing is a very well-established practice for modern businesses of all kinds and sizes. It’s particularly valued in IT and web development, where hyper-focused expertise across dozens of diverse and discrete areas is so utterly fundamental to the overall health and momentum of the wider sector.
Even so, it’s commonly seen as an area of business that’s inherently fraught with potential pitfalls. We all know it can be of huge benefit to all involved when it works out…but all too often, it can feel like a bit of a dice-roll during those nervy early stages of a relationship.
In fairness, that’s not an entirely irrational fear: while there are several very useful rules of thumb when it comes to increasing your chances of a harmonious arrangement, it’s important to remember that there is no ‘one size fits all’ guide for guaranteed success. In other words, you can’t always rely on using the exact same pattern or approach, nor expect the results to be broadly similar from one client or project to the next.
Almost anywhere you look, you’ll find countless examples of high-turnover, global-reach corporations spending millions each year on dozens of software development outsourcing projects. Some of these might blossom into decades-long relationships of genuine mutual benefit; others, meanwhile, will inevitably crash and burn within 12-18 months. The list of possible reasons for this is basically as long as the list of companies involved.
The key point here – and in many ways, this is the most important tip you’ll read from us today – is that there’s a certain elusive alchemy to a harmonious and mutually beneficial experience. While there’s no such thing as a guaranteed recipe for success, your best chances will generally emerge through a continually shifting balance of preparation, experience, sound judgment, smart management, and a dash of pure good luck.
With that said, here are five further tips we think will greatly improve your chances of striking gold:
Remember that successful outsourcing is primarily about people, rather than tech, tools or methodologies. Of course, highly esoteric specialisms or access to niche hardware/software dev tools can be very valuable in certain specific cases – but even so, it’s generally wise to start your search with a clear idea of the sort of team you want to be working with.
Focus on people first and foremost, rather than basing your entire approach on obtaining a specific technology or service, and you’ll usually find things tend to run much more smoothly from day one.
Be very clear in your own mind about exactly why you’re outsourcing a project, service or function, and how you except it to benefit you. Moreover, ensure you can (and do!) communicate these ideas in simple, direct terms to those around you.
It’s always extremely important to have the full support, understanding and involvement of all relevant staff – and especially of senior management, of course – before arranging any sort of deal. Clarity of vision, transparency around both short- and long-term planning, and pinning down a measurable set of well-defined, realistic expectations will go a long way towards securing this.
While you’re at it, use this clearly defined framework to make sure the full suite of services you’re going to be contracting out represents a truly great match for your company’s specific needs. Check, for example, that you won’t end up paying for a load of extra ‘standard package’ stuff that your particular project or organisation isn’t realistically going to benefit from.
3Pick a path
Plan your whole approach to the project in detail, ideally with input from the client organisation, and ensure you both fully understand what your relative positions and responsibilities will be from the beginning. There are many different ways to position both yourself and the client company when outsourcing a service or area of work, and these various potential approaches can be quite markedly different.
A liaison-type model, for example, is often popular in IT outsourcing: in this sort of arrangement, individual activities or strands of a shared project are assigned directly to one or the other party, with the aim of target specific skill sets or reducing overall processing times. Alternatively, handing over full responsibility for one entire area or portfolio can be seen as more appropriate in many situations; this will naturally imply a rather different schedule of meetings and reports.
You might even opt for a deliberately ad hoc approach, in which each stage of a partly outsourced project or workflow is discussed and assigned as it arrives. Again, the type and frequency of communications between both parties will of course be impacted significantly under this sort of setup.
Any/all of these methods are equally valid under the right circumstances – the key point is to make sure you both know which one you’re using, and why it’s the best approach in this case.
Communication is key, both internally and between organisations. (We’ve already mentioned the value of clear internal communications, and making sure key staff are fully on board with the whys and the hows.)
In terms of external communication between client companies, there’s a really important balance to be struck. On the one hand, you must be sure to define precise parameters for what is and isn’t covered under any given contracted agreement. Written briefs must be clear, straightforward, and avoid ambiguity – remember that different organisations can have very different cultural approaches, or interpret some areas terminology differently, especially when dealing with overseas contracts.
On the other hand, you don’t want to fall into the ‘outsourcing paradox’, whereby everything is so strictly prescribed that the client you’re working with has no opportunity to bring their own expertise, creativity and experience to bear on your project. Always be prepared to make changes, while maintaining a clear view of your priority Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for any given project.
Allow some room for manoeuvre while staying on top of KPI monitoring in four or five priority areas at most, and it’ll really help both parties steer a course to the same destination.
Each party in this sort of arrangement should always be thinking about the ‘we’ aspect of the collaboration, rather than treating every negotiation as being a compromise between two individual ‘I’s.
That might sound obvious, but it’s very often overlooked. As popular and widespread as outsourcing is today, it’s still not uncommon for one side or the other to feel that work is either being simply ‘chucked over the fence’. (Or – arguably worse! – the exact opposite: being micromanaged to a degree that basically undermines the whole point of the collaboration.)
This sort of scenario most often arises when a project lacks a real sense of shared endeavour, but thankfully that’s fairly easy to avoid. The best way is to ensure that the governing structure overseeing the agreement is always accessible, open and forthcoming.
Regular discussions about progress, changes, improvements and impact on agreed measurables are incredibly valuable to both parties at all stages of the relationship: once again, it can’t be overstated that communication really is key.
Ultimately, the key thing to be aware of is that every client in an outsourcing arrangement will be bringing their own specific needs, unique backgrounds, experiences and expectations to the table. The fastest route to success lies in discovering precisely where and how these skill sets can best complement each other; that’s one reason we’ve often found that an approach like the Agile Scrum methodology works so well for us.
For more information on Agile approaches to project management across shared initiatives – and for further insight into all aspects of outsourcing software development projects – check out some of our other in-house blog guides, or drop us a line via our web contact form.