Overcoming Current Challenges in Outsourcing Software Development

Outsourcing partnerships are now a vital lifeline for businesses facing pressure to innovate faster, broaden their offerings, and deliver consistent customer experiences across an ever-expanding digital ecosystem.

Organizations that can both find the right outsourcing partners and effectively leverage external resources stand to weather the COVID storm and emerge as industry leaders when we return to the next “normal.” Outsourcing, however, is harder than it sounds.

In spite of all its benefits, outsourcing software development comes with some serious challenges–many with the potential to derail a project–or worse, cause significant financial losses or reputational damage.

Below, we’ll discuss some of the main software development challenges and solutions that
organizations need to address long before they engage potential partners.

Overcoming Challenges of Software Outsourcing Infographic

Collaboration Issues

Of the current challenges in outsourcing, collaboration issues may have the biggest impact on project outcomes–causing delays, miscommunication, quality issues, and a whole lot of waste.

Collaboration challenges happen for all sorts of reasons–language barriers, poor documentation, cultural differences, lack of communication, etc.– though organizations can get ahead of the problem by laying a strong foundation early on.

According to Tiempo Software Engineer Paul Estrada, bad communication, out-of-sync processes, and poorly-defined expectations are the main reasons that software outsourcing projects fail.

He recommends that organizations set the stage for smooth collaboration by clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of anyone–in-house and outsourced–with anything to do with the project.

Everyone should know exactly what they were hired to do, how their role fits into the big-picture strategy, and what they should or shouldn’t do in any given situation.

From there, organizations should make sure communication channels–think chat, email, and video conferencing, as well as access to all relevant documentation, are open and available to everyone on the team.

Rodolfo Carmona

“One of the challenges the teams face most of the time when it comes to collaboration is that the outsourcing teams don’t know who your internal experts are, who owns processes, or who is responsible for specific tools, technologies, and environments.” – Rodolfo Carmona, Engagement and Release Manager – Tiempo Development

Without that clarity around where to turn for help, it becomes more difficult to gather feedback, instructions, or information when needed. Companies should consider sharing an org. chart, information about key roles, complete with details about individual expertise.

By making sure that new team members understand how information flows throughout the organization, new team members can quickly ask questions, get an answer, and move forward without wasting time.

Beyond that, we’ve also included some basic guidelines for how you might approach communication/collaboration tools:

  • Choose a good messaging tool and encourage immediate communication. Paul Estrada says, “I’d say that more than immediate communication or advocating for a specific tool, it’s a good idea to choose a tool that facilitates/encourages information discoverability and direct communication.”

    He adds, “Any tool that makes it easier for a team to find the right document, person, or conversation they need, will result in improved productivity. In practice, we still use different tools (chats, email, Sprint boards, video calls) because they’re the right tool for a specific task.”

  • Stop using emails for real-time communication. Send a message, do a video call; the first resource should not be an email.

    At the same time, email can be a valuable source of information. Asynchronous communication works best for sharing important information. There are certain things you don’t want to risk losing track of in a Slack thread. Think onboarding information among other important one-off information.

    Often, emails represent a way for us to have evidence of certain things, like validations, decisions, etc. So, while it might not be the go-to tool for in-the-moment communication, email still has an important role in knowledge sharing. The focus for email is primarily on the long-term.

  • Keep cameras on. We all feel safe behind our profile picture, but there’s no replacement for face-to-face interaction–even when it’s virtual.

Ultimately, collaboration is less about the tools themselves and more about how you use the tools you have to stay connected.

Provide some guidance around how teams should use each of the tools you provide by incorporating them into your documentation and making it accessible to anyone involved in the project.

Angel Almada shares, “I’d say that more than immediate communication or advocating for a specific tool, it’s also a good idea to choose a tool that facilitates/encourages information discoverability and direct communication.”

Any tool that makes it easier for a team to find the right document, person or conversation they need, will result in improved productivity. In practice, we still use different tools (chats, email, Sprint boards, video calls), because they’re the right tool for a specific task.

Here, you want to include expectations around availability, handling urgent issues, response times, how to schedule meetings, etc.

While this process requires a lot of planning during the initial stages, it will allow your outsourced team to be more independent and self-reliant in the long-run. More importantly, you’ll greatly reduce the chances that your outsourced team deviates from the plan.

Integration Issues

Integration planning (aka, your strategy for introducing your outsourced team into existing team dynamics, processes, and workflows) often falls by the wayside for multiple reasons.

Business leaders tend to underestimate both its impact on the project’s success and the effort required to unify internal and external teams.

Additionally, organizations with little experience with outsourcing often assume that it’s more of a “plug-and-play” arrangement. The truth is, if you want to know how to successfully outsource software development, you need to make team integration a top priority.

Or, as Tiempo Director of Software Delivery, Francisco Ponce, puts it, “the less the customer involves their partners in the business strategy, the more likely their efforts will fail.”

He continues to share that “clients should consider their partners a key part of the entire development lifecycle, involving them from the early planning stages up until the last steps of delivery and deployment. Integration is as important as the software coding itself.”

Tiempo’s Julio Placencia agrees and says, “organizations must invest more effort and resources in their outsourced teams.”He also states, “clients need to go beyond daily standups and check in with teams from time to time, make solid, up-to-date documentation accessible to everyone for smooth knowledge transfers, and make contextual information about business strategy and best practices available for anyone to view.”

It’s also important to note that the integration strategy goes beyond sharing information with external partners. Failing to keep your in-house workers in the loop can also derail the project. Workers may feel as though they’re being replaced. In turn, it causes feelings of resentment or unnecessary stress.

When in-house developers don’t understand why they’re working with an outsourced team or how the project aligns with the organization’s goals, they’re A: poorly equipped to help external developers deliver what was promised, and B: working with the fear that they may be replaced with cheaper labor.

Make sure the entire team understands what tasks are being outsourced, why, and what role they play in ensuring the project is a success. In other words, success starts with communication.

Beyond that, it’s worth examining other reasons that employees may be wary of outsourcing, including:

  • Are you continuing to invest in training? Are you offering upskilling and professional development opportunities?
  • Are you communicating the business strategy to the entire team or keeping workers in the dark?
  • Are you slashing costs elsewhere? Are workers underpaid according to current market rates?

Rodolfo Carmona also recommends creating new spaces for synchronization between teams.

He says, “when companies are considering outsourcing, they typically want to add at least one full-time team to their existing workforce, and even when a company has an established onboarding process, it doesn’t usually account for an entire team coming on-board at the same time. Ramping up one new hire looks a lot different than ramping up an entire team.”

Onboarding should include:

  • An introduction to your company mission, values, and core objectives
  • Detailed documentation outlining how to work with you/your teams
  • Project requirements
  • Contextual information for helping teams understand project priorities, goals, and desired outcome

The bottom line is, outsourced workers need to understand your company, strategic goals, and project requirements to be successful.

You’ll also need to ensure that internal workers see outsourcing as an asset that allows them to explore more meaningful work and pursue leadership opportunities such as leading outsourced projects. Outsourcing should not be seen as a threat to internal teams.

Time Zone Issues

Mismatched time zones present one of the biggest challenges to outsourcing software projects, particularly when a project is best-suited to Agile development (as most development projects are). Combating this issue comes down to a few things: first, it’s about making sure that you select the right partner for the job.

For projects requiring close collaboration, continuous testing, and incorporating feedback throughout the development cycle, your best chance at success is partnering with a company that works in the same (or similar) time zone as your in-house team. Here, internal and external teams can work together throughout the day and can resolve issues ASAP by hopping on a quick call or chat.

If you’re outsourcing software development offshore, making it work requires a great deal of planning. Prepare to spend a good amount of time developing detailed requirements, defining workflows, and creating standard procedures for handling various situations.

You’ll also want to schedule meetings–kick-off calls, check-ins at key milestones, even 1:1s–to ensure that the project is delivered on time, meets quality standards, and aligns with the strategic vision.

Keep in mind, offshoring works best in situations where you’ve already defined project requirements for the entire development cycle. If you don’t have a clear picture of what the end product should look like or expect the project to change in scope, working with a nearshore team makes much more sense.

Trust Issues

We’ve already discussed how ill-defined requirements, time zone issues, language barriers, and poor planning or project management can all undermine the project’s quality.

A lack of trust can be a barrier to success, too.

To successfully outsource software development projects, organizations need to get comfortable with giving up some control.

Tiempo’s Rodolfo Carmona warns that one of the factors preventing US clients from making the most of their outsourced team is that they’re unwilling to share ownership of the project.

Client teams may be hesitant to provide access to the tools, insights, and access permissions that developers need to do their jobs.

And in many cases, the reason is, internal teams fear being replaced by the outsourced team. In this situation, organizations need to be upfront about why and how they’ll be using outsourced talent. Organizations should take special care to demonstrate the benefits of adding external software development teams bring to internal development teams–i.e., saving time or allowing developers to focus on more strategic projects.

Additionally, client companies need to make an effort to keep external teams in the loop, too.

Often, companies choose to outsource because they want to increase capacity or extend their in-house team but fail to consider that external teams are working within limited environments/without adequate tools or contextual information.

Quality begins by choosing the right partner. Ultimately, it depends on giving teams everything they need to succeed–constant communication, access to information, collaboration tools, defined workflows and procedures, and trust.

You Need a Partner that Understands Software Development Challenges and Solutions

While there are several challenges that businesses need to consider before pursuing any type of outsourcing partnership, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a lot of overlap when it comes to avoiding major pitfalls.

To successfully outsource software development, partner with a development team that can work collaboratively with your internal teams to achieve big-picture organizational goals.

That means you’ll need to consider what potential barriers prevent that from happening and how to eliminate them. For example, you might look for a company that operates in your time zone and hires developers who speak English to avoid quality issues that may cause delays.

From there, you might ask yourself what tools do you need to support collaboration. What information do external developers need to be successful? How can in-house staff best support their new partners?

Tiempo Development provides clients with high-performing teams who know the ins and outs of today’s top software development challenges and solutions.

Our expert developers work in US time zones and follow a mature Agile process, allowing you to deliver valuable solutions to market faster. Contact us today to learn more about working with us.