At the executive level, what’s the difference between a vendor and a partner? In name, not much, but in a business engagement it’s huge.
Developing a partnership with your outsourcer can mean the difference between a successful project and a failed one. The decision is yours, and it starts at the top with executive involvement.
Let’s face it, developing software isn’t easy. Development resources are scarce, the backlog seems never-ending, and there are constant business expectations and customer requests to attend to.
In order to alleviate these pressures, many companies incorporate outsourcing to build products and augment development teams – it’s an effective way to find talent at attractive price points.
While companies have been using offshore and nearshore outsourcers for many years, a surprising amount of these engagements didn’t deliver the value that was first envisioned.
One of the primary reasons for this is the type of relationship that is developed between vendor and customer – clients have mostly been conducting business as a one-sided service contract with the vendor relationship.
How familiar does this sound? — “What’s the cost?”, “how many developers do I need?”, “when can they start?”, “here are some tasks in the backlog, go and execute the code.”
The fallback of this approach is that when things don’t work out fingers start being pointed.
As an executive, you need to help your development leaders move out of this commodity-like, vendor mindset. While the effort invested initially may be a bit greater, the results will lead to more successful engagements.
Here are five things you can do as an executive to ensure your outsourcing project develops as a partnership relationship.
Set and share realistic expectations
Communication is a theme that is essential for any outsource relationship. It starts with developing a plan up front with internal development leaders and business executives at your company.
It’s easy to be optimistic on how fast remote workers will ramp up. Take the timeline model you have for a new local hire and add “additional buffer time”. If it takes a local resource two months to ramp up, target three months for the remote developer.
While it may take longer to ramp up, setting the right expectations in the beginning will ensure you under promise and over deliver.
Establish multi-layer account communication and connections
It’s common for the development teams to have their daily standups and sprint planning, but try taking that a step further by creating additional layers of communication and interaction.
Work with the outsourcers to identify a “delivery lead” – not someone who is necessarily the best developer, but someone who can act like a “proxy-scrum master” with good communication and facilitation skills.
Furthermore, ensure you work and maintain on-going contact with the account manager within the outsourcing firm, because they are financially motivated to ensure that the project succeeds. A consistent, regularly scheduled status call will help keep the project on track.
Finally, establish a relationship with an executive at the IT services company; don’t leave all the interaction at the product team or account level.
Anticipate and embrace issues
If you’re new to an outsourcing relationship or engaging with a new partner, you have to expect to meet with a few challenges.
In the beginning, everyone is excited with high expectations, but small issues can mount and the excitement soon wanes. The project may also suddenly go off the rails after seemingly running well for months.
If you’ve established the multi-layers of communication mentioned above, you will have built trust and credibility early in the relationship, which will most likely help to address issues as they occur.
If things do go awry, embrace the opportunity to dig into the root cause on both sides. Facilitate dialogue between parties. This is when video conferencing really helps. And don’t stop at listing the issues, but also request recommendations, because getting folks to think of solutions not just problems will strengthen the partnership even further.
Treat the remote team like your own
Your remote development team takes great pride at providing value and wants to feel appreciated, so take the time to educate them about your business.
Share information about your market, tell them about your competitors, explain how your customers use your software, and share information about your internal business drivers.
These folks are driven to understand how your business works, so you’ll start to see some great ideas and commitment coming from them as they begin to feel more engaged with your business.
Plan for face-to-face meetings
A challenge for outsourced personnel or any remote worker is feeling part of the team. How do you replicate the casual conversations that constantly happen in the local office?
A good plan is to on-board the outsourcing team and get a few sprints under your belt, then start a process of bringing developers into your office as well as having some of your developers travel to the services partner’s location.
While remote communication tools are great, adding a travel budget to your plan for face-to-face interaction is essential for strong relationships. You should also take time to ask about their family and their interests while sharing some of your own, because building a personal connection is critical for long-term success.