Software outsourcing has gained a pretty bad rap over the years, to the extent that many executives won’t even consider it. Influenced by either what they’ve heard about the process or through a prior experience, Outsourcing 1.0 is unfortunately the type of outsourcing that first comes to mind when people hear the term “outsourcing.” Years ago, the primary driver for Outsourcing 1.0 was to save money without any real concern for quality of the software. Needless to say, the results were often disastrous.
But Andy Hilliard, President of Accelerance, and I have seen Outsourcing 2.0 work and deliver excellent software apps – saving both time and even money in the process. We decided that the best way to show how Outsourcing 2.0 works is through a story in our book, Outsource or Else! where the reader comes to learn about the seven keys of successful software outsourcing as the story unfolds.
The hero of our story is VP of Engineering, Jason Jaye, who finds himself in need of accelerating the release of his company’s next product. Meanwhile, the CEO is under pressure from investors to bring things to fruition quickly, while strongly recommending that the company outsource to achieve this aggressive goal.
Jason’s pulse began to pound in his ears. “Look, Scott,” he tried, feeling more like a trapped animal by the second, “they’ve got to see reason. What they want isn’t physically possible. We’d need at least twenty more developers to pull this off, probably closer to twenty-five, and you know we can’t get them. I’ve been trying to hire even five new people for months. Our compensation isn’t competitive enough as it is. Now they want me to fill four times that many positions at a fraction of the price?” He looked Scott in the eye. “We just don’t have the people.”
“We do need more people,” Scott nodded. “The VCs think so, too. They want us to outsource software development to make the new plan happen.”
Another hush fell over the room. Jason felt sick to his stomach. Outsource software development? It couldn’t be done. Not successfully. Everyone knew that.
Of course that’s what Jason thinks. He’s stuck in the Outsourcing 1.0 mindset, but he has no choice. Outsource, or else the investors will pull the plug on funding efforts. He has to find a way to make it work.
Enter Patrick Delaney, who acts as Jason’s mentor. Here’s how Patrick defines Outsourcing 2.0 during a public speech to an audience of skeptical software engineering managers, including Jason:
Patrick grinned—a roguish, Cheshire cat smile that showed all his teeth. “My friends,” he said, “that version of outsourcing [Outsourcing 1.0] was doomed before it began. This is the new world—‘One World.’ Modern software outsourcing, or Software Outsourcing 2.0, looks like this:
We are going to deliver this software together—us and the outsourced team. We are going to create a feature, review it, and move on to the next feature together, all on the same page, one sprint after another. Because the outsourcers are not the cheapest slave labor we can find. They are our partners.”
“You don’t choose your partners based on who will give you the cheapest price, alone,” Patrick went on. “You’re not looking for a yes-man. Instead, you do some solid research and you find smart, extroverted problem solvers who will take equal responsibility with you for the delivery of your product. People who will take the initiative and challenge each other to solve development problems.”
“Since you vetted them carefully, you know that they have the security and development certifications to do what you need them to do, and do it well. And since you got to know them before you hired them, you know that you’ll be able to communicate clearly and work through any cultural issues that come up.”
Notice the mention of cultural issues in the last sentence. There are two kinds of cultures to consider when outsourcing – country and company. Country culture is the ability to speak your language including the use of common speech idioms. For example, English is common in India, but they use different idioms that sound odd to an American ear such as, “Do the needful,” which means, “Do what needs to be done.” And our frequent use of sports-related phrases is, well, clearly a strike against their ability to understand us!
Your company culture includes the norms, values and acceptable behavior of the people you work with. We recommend looking for a software outsourcing company with a culture similar to your company.
The good news is there is a common organizational culture where great software is created. It’s a collaborative, problem-solving, engineering culture that most software developers recognize instantly. In our story, Jason finds such a company. However, he is forced to defend his selection in an executive staff meeting because his provider of choice does not have the lowest hourly rates.
“Look, I know it sounds counterintuitive, but quality isn’t really about technical skill and experience at the end of the day,” he said. “The quality we need for our software is going to come from having a team we can collaborate and communicate with well. We need EQ as much as we need IQ—maybe even more—and we get that with the company I found. Again,” he added pointedly, “I’ve met these people. I’ve seen their hiring standards. I’ve seen how they work. Their company culture and values are a dead ringer for ours.”
Jason must hold his ground in the meeting because finding a company with a problem solving engineering culture is a key success factor in Outsourcing 2.0. Our goal in writing “Outsource or Else!” is to share the keys of successful software outsourcing, so our audience can learn the same lessons as Jason in an educational and entertaining way.