Outsourcing has become one of the most popular ways in which companies develop their digital products. Startups work with outsourced teams to build then scale their MVPs, and corporations partner with offshore software consultants to innovate and complete complex applications. If done right, development costs and time can be cut almost by half through outsourcing (compared to hiring an internal team). But cooperation with external technological partners can also go very wrong. Here’s how to prevent that from happening.

Outsourcing software development allows you to tap into an incredible amount of potential. Top talent from around the world could work on your project, adding their deep know-how and commercial experience to the service. Developers hired by outsourcing software companies are often very skilled and have worked on a number of project from various industries. This versatility and willingness to adapt to new challenges is what makes them exceptional on the market - they are open to using the technologies that serve the client’s business needs best.

While there are many more reasons why working with an outsourcing partner can be beneficial for your project, cooperating with an external team of experts comes with its own challenges. These can include bad culture fit, poor communication, and an overly narrow focus in terms of technologies or services. In this article, we’ll take a look at the aspects of software development outsourcing that are the most likely to cause trouble, and establish ways to avoid potential problems.

Define goals and metrics

As you begin a cooperation with an external team, keep in mind that you’re paying them by the hour. Even if you chose the Waterfall approach to organizing work on your project, it’s in the development team’s best interest to finish work quickly and move on to their next engagement. Every moment wasted means less time and effort spent on building your app. From the start, you should know what you want your outsourced team to achieve, and how you’re going to measure their level of success.

Establish clear goals for your project, as well as metrics for each of them that will allow you to track your team’s progress. Talk to your team about a definition of done that both sides agree on. Doing this means your potential partner’s team knows what they are in for, and can tell you whether or not they’ll be able to meet your goals. You yourself will have a better idea of how big a team you need, and what technological expertise will be crucial for the product.

If you chose to work with a software consulting agency, you might need their expertise to define your goals and metrics. That’s perfectly fine - simply be sure to do so before the development process begins. And choose a trustworthy software agency.

Choose a well-established partner

Pick an outsourcing partner you can really trust, with a portfolio of successful projects and good references from former clients. Look through the projects they’ve completed, maybe check out a few of them if they are web apps or otherwise easily accessible. Next, take a look at the company’s blog and social media. It’s a bad sign if their last post on Facebook is from a year ago, while proof of participation in software-related events is a clear indicator that the company puts effort into staying up-to-date with technological trends and developments. While going through your potential partner’s portfolio, make sure they have worked on several long-term projects, as it’s a sign of a reliable and mature development process.

We recommend working with software companies rather than freelancers, as the former come with more know-how and better processes, a full spectrum of software-related services, and are more likely to deliver a high quality of service. Freelancers, on the other hand, are more unpredictable and difficult to oversee. You would need a tech expert (e.g. a CTO) on your internal team to make sure a team of freelancers is working according to the plan and schedule. This is a hidden cost that many overlook.

Look for technological expertise and flexibility

Sometimes, your choice of technology directs the entire search for a software development partner. Other times, it’s the software company helping you choose the best solutions for your product. Ideally, you want to strike a balance between deep specialization and the flexibility needed to adapt to your business needs. While a team that works strictly with one stack likely consists of true experts, they might choose solutions (such as languages, frameworks and libraries) based on their experience with them, rather than on the specifics of your project.

To verify technological expertise, check out your future team’s open source projects. You can take these as code samples and determine what level of code quality you can expect. Additionally, the fact that a company produces open source content is in itself a good sign. It means they engage with development communities and aren’t afraid to show their work to the world. You should also look for technical content on their blog, to see whether they take interest in new technologies and solutions.

Make sure your partner offers all or most of the services you require

Development doesn’t end at delivering your app’s code. To build a high-quality product, you also need quality assurance, a DevOps expert to optimize the app and its architecture, as well as post-launch support to deal with unexpected issues. Sometimes, you may also need product design, including UX and UI services. It’s best to choose a partner who can provide all of this, as good communication between various teams (e.g. the DevOps engineer and the developers) is assured. The teams will also follow similar processes and standards, with a positive impact on their productivity.

Choose the right model: Waterfall vs. Time & Materials

Make sure your development parter is open to working according to the development model you want to use. Both models have their advantages. Time & Materials offers flexibility that can be crucial to projects on fast-changing markets or to startups prepared for a pivot. The Waterfall approach offers a stricter prediction of development time and costs, which can work well with a rigid budget. Make the right choice for your business, and make sure that your partner has the ability to follow through.

Establish security standards

Data protection has become a priority for digital businesses. It’s important to ensure that your users’ sensitive information will be safe in your care. To do so, make sure your partner has the necessary expertise to implement effective security measures.

Make sure you’ll get a team of the right size

A large (especially corporate level) partner might not take an individual approach to each client, or might not be too flexible when choosing technologies or processes. Often, they will provide a team without an in-depth analysis of the client’s needs and without the client’s input, which can lead to problems later on. If your project is innovative or experimental, a large company’s services might not be best for your business.

Understand the contract before you sign it

Perhaps surprisingly, many issues between clients and software development companies arise because of misunderstandings and badly constructed contracts. Sit down with your partner and read through the agreement together. Ask them to clarify whenever you don’t understand something, and cover all your bases by making sure the contract divides responsibility for licensing fees, infrastructure management, quality assurance, code ownership, NDAs, and all other factors important for your project.

Establish good communication

Effective communication is the basis for success when developing a digital product. Expectations change, markets shift and companies pivot to better answer their users’ needs. Your development partner needs to be ready for this, prepared to quickly adjust and reestablish project goals. To do so, you need to be able to get in touch with them on short notice.

The development team also benefits from having access to you and your team. They can ask you questions and report on progress, giving both sides the opportunity to catch mistakes early and to act on new opportunities as they arise. At iRonin, we make sure our clients have access to each developer working on their project, both to ensure smooth communication and to provide full project transparency. This allows us to easily cooperate across time zones when we’re an offshore partner. As a remote-first company, we’ve spent years perfecting a suite of skills that has proven beneficial in many past projects.

Check for culture fit

Firstly, you need to make sure your development team can communicate in a language you know. Secondly, you probably want to work with people who understand your values and are pleasant to be around. This is where culture fit becomes important. Your project team will be in communication with you every day for months, maybe years, sharing update reports and asking you to provide information about your business. It’s best to make sure these will be people who will energize you, inspire you with new ideas for the project, and help you reach your goals.

There are many ways to make a mistake when choosing a development partner. However, most can be avoided or at least mitigated with good preparation, in-depth research, and trusting your judgement. Don’t hesitate to engage a potential partner in conversation - the best way to find out whether you’ll like working with them is to simply talk.

Ready to start developing your project with a team that will drive your vision forward?
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