Four Questions You Should Ask Before You Sign

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February 18, 2014

More and more overseas companies are popping up, each one promising you the moon and claiming to be the leader in offshoring. And maybe they are, but probably not. You have to take it all with a grain of salt. They might actually employ the highest quality software developers and have the ability to meet all your project timelines and budgets. They might not. Offshore outsourcing can me a gamble, but it doesn’t have to be if you learn the game.

I have personally been burned by offshoring in the past and learned plenty of lessons the hard way. Those experiences were instrumental in creating a company designed to safeguard my fellow IT leaders from falling into the same traps. No matter what you outsource or which company you use, there are some questions you have to ask before you sign any legal paperwork.

1.) Do I get direct access to my developers?
You want direct access for a few reasons. Not being able to talk to your developers directly is the leading cause of communication breakdowns during development. It is also indicative of a total lack of transparency, and you shouldn’t trust what you can’t see. Firms that do not give you direct access are usually hiding something behind a Project Manager. They could be hiding junior developers or swapping out your developer(s) several times during the life of the project without you ever knowing. You just have to “trust” what you are being told, and wait weeks for project updates, hoping it is all correct in time for that looming deadline.

Another drawback when you do not have direct access is that you are losing an opportunity for valuable collaboration. If you are indeed working with the highest quality software developers, chances are they have some insight on how to make the project even better, or could give you ideas of how to proceed with similar projects. You are paying for their skill, and you should be able to take full advantage of it.

2.) What hours are they working?
It is hard to find developers that work U.S. business hours unless they are onshore or nearshore (and you’ll pay a lot more for that geographic luxury). Having your developers online during your work day is key to successful project collaboration and communication. Plus it will save you the headache of 3 a.m. meetings or having to wait a day for a simple email response, or worse an important fix. This feature is one of the hardest to find: from my own experience, most competent software developers that are worth their salt would rather work a day shift in their time zone.

This makes it difficult to find a quality developer who is willing to work the night shift. Providers promising developers during U.S. business hours are normally only able to offer junior developers that do not have a choice since they need to build their resumes somehow. I have had to put strict processes in place for hiring to weed through this, and as a result we only hire 6% of the developers who apply. The problem was even worse when we tried to expand our service centers into India via partnerships with Indian firms. They promised us that they would have no problem finding developers that met our standards to work U.S. business hours, but after going through ten companies and interviewing over 300 developers it was clear that it wasn’t going to work out. I am sure the perfect developer willing to work a night shift exists, but do you have time to interview 300 developers to find them? Probably not.

3.) Are they giving you the best developer for your project or just emptying their own bench?
An outsourcing provider may have plenty of developers, but are they the right developers for your project? In order to meet demands quickly, outsourcing companies keep a bench of eligible developers. They are essentially paying developers to sit idle waiting for them to generate profits, so it is in their best interest to place them as quickly as possible. Make sure you are getting what you need. Treat your outsourcing vendor like you would any business partner: until they have earned your trust, don’t just take their word for anything. They should be willing to prove themselves to you and that starts with allowing you to be involved in the selection of the developers working on your project. It can be as simple as reviewing resumes or as involved as conducting interviews or giving skill tests. It is a little more work in the beginning and you may have to wait a little longer to get a developer started, but it pays off big when the work gets done correctly the first time.

4.) What kind of accountability do they offer?
If you are thinking about going directly to a firm overseas, beware of any guarantees they offer. I don’t mean to say that all overseas firms are tough to deal with, but depending on where you offshore, the business culture is different and so are some of the laws. They may not necessarily follow American business standards and ethics so getting them to live up to their guarantees can be difficult. Make sure the contract covers all of your needs, protects you, and that you can act if it is broken. You need to think through all the “what if’s” before you start in case things go sour. You don’t want to have to figure out how to take legal action to protect your intellectual property after it has been taken.