4 Questions to Consider Before Outsourcing Software Development

Yasir Drabu

July 29, 2021

Outsourcing Software Development

You know of a software solution that will improve your business. 

Problem is, your internal team doesn’t have the skillset and/or bandwidth to develop, integrate, or update your legacy systems to accommodate the new solution. 

You could outsource the work, but you’re not sure a third-party team would have the necessary industry or domain knowledge. 

Or perhaps you’ve never outsourced before, and you’re concerned that a remote team won’t work well with your team. 

Should you wait to deploy the solution, or go ahead and outsource? 

There’s no silver bullet that makes an outsourced team successful—but there are some key considerations that exponentially increase your chance of success. 

Ask the Important Questions First 

Before you embark on outsourcing software development, the first step is to ask four fundamental questions. 

1. Do you really need to build the software? 

build vs. buy analysis is a good place to start when answering this question. If you’re trying to solve a common business problem, there may be an off-the-shelf software platform to solve it. Depending on the new product’s complexity and the availability of APIs, it may be simple to integrate it with your existing systems. 

If it requires a custom integration, however, you might still need to engage with a third-party team. Even so, outsourcing your integration needs is much simpler than hiring a team for custom software development. 

2. Do you have a champion? 

When working with an outsourced team (or an in-house team, for that matter), you need someone to clarify the challenges and envision a solution—or at least guide a discussion to define an effective solution. 

A subject matter expert (SME) or product owner will champion the project, using in-depth knowledge to define goals and create a vision for software you want to develop. 

Once the project begins, the SME/product owner keeps the lines of communication open and untangled between your internal stakeholders and the outsourced team. They are responsible for clarifying goals and keeping the project aligned with your objectives. 

Everyone needs to be on the same page for a project to work effectively, and that’s the role of a subject matter expert or product owner. 

3. Can you build your own team? 

You’ve decided to build the software you need and identified an internal champion (possibly you) to lead the digital transformation. The next question is, can you build an in-house team? 

The answer depends on several factors: 

Project length: How long will you need the team? Hiring for short-term team is more difficult because you’re limited to contractors and freelancers. Most software developers want full-time, permanent positions. 

Budget: Is there money in the budget for hiring the people you need? Can you afford experienced developers? Even a minimally viable team of less-experienced engineers may cost more than outsourcing would. 

Talent acquisition: Do you have a strong hiring team that can identify and recruit the right talent for the project’s needs? What’s the minimum skillset you require? Most experienced software developers are working for established technology companies, so you’ll likely have to settle for a less-experienced hire. 

Time: Do you have the time to find, hire, and train new team members? Onboarding typically takes several months. 

Leadership: Choosing the right candidate requires an understanding of the team dynamic. You must identify the missing puzzle pieces and make sure you assemble a team that works well together. Do you have the in-house technical leadership to do that? 

4. Are you relying too much on one person? 

Building great software requires a team that can handle planning, architecture, UX and UI design, front-end and back-end development, data modeling, CI/CD, devops, security, and many other aspects of software development

While many engineers understand most of the stages of software development, it’s rare to find someone that has expert knowledge of all stages. If you put the entire implementation on just one or two people’s shoulders, you’re going to get sub-par results at best, and complete project failure at worst. 

Two Key Factors for Onboarding an Outsourced Team 

If your answers to the four questions above lead you to conclude that you need to outsource your software project, there are two factors that can help make the project successful: leadership buy-in and minimal customer distance. 

Leadership Buy-In 

Any project needs leadership buy-in, but it’s especially true when you’re outsourcing the project. You’re going to need to provide your remote team with a clarity of vision, a focus on outcomes, and the guidance of a good roadmap. Your remote team needs to be able to see the vision and the goal for the project. 

You may not have all the answers at the start, but you must provide as much clarity as you can and be willing to iterate and learn together as the project progresses. 

It’s going to be a challenge to keep your in-house and outsourced teams on the same page. Your internal team members need to welcome and treat the outsourced developers like an extension of the team, not an adversary. Leadership buy-in goes a long way toward fostering the positive attitudes and camaraderie needed for project success. 

Minimize Customer Distance 

While it’s critical to have a Scrum Master, a product owner, and a business analyst, don’t let these roles become a barrier between the development team and the customer. Make sure the outsourced team gets to present the work they’ve done to the stakeholders and end-users of the product being built. 

For example, if you follow an Agile process like Scrum, the outsourced team should demonstrate the software they’ve built in the sprint review. Not only does this make them feel like a true part of the team, but more importantly, it allows them to hear feedback directly and clearly from the customer. It’s one more way to improve communication. 

Finding Value in Outsourcing 

With hundreds of successful projects under our belt, we’ve learned that each project requires a slightly different approach, and there’s no one method that guarantees success. Building a software team is a lot of work. Building a remote team across multiple time-zones can be even more work. 

And yet many innovative companies find value in outsourcing. 

Experience is key. The more you practice anything, the better you get. That’s as true of outsourced software development as it is for golf or playing the piano. 

If you decide to outsource your project, an experienced remote team can smooth out some of the bumps in the process simply by having encountered them before. Consult with them before the project starts and weigh their recommendations heavily. 

With the benefit of their experience, your outsourced project stands a better chance of coming in on time, under budget, and with a high level of quality.