The Ugly Truth About Outsourcing Development (And Tips to Make it Work)

If you’re working at a startup, there’s a chance they’ve decided to outsource development to a dev shop to either complete the MVP or work on various technical challenges.

This can be great for the startup’s budget but poses some challenges to you, dear product manager.

The first major one…

Challenge 1: Lack of vision/mission buy-in

An outsourced team is not likely to buy into your mission or vision, especially if they’re contractors or work at a dev shop that churns out lots of apps a year.

They’re probably there to be paid. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t expect them to get as giddy as you do when you talk about the goals of the product.

Challenge 2: Communication barriers

Communication barriers are a major challenge if you’re working with an overseas team — especially if their native language is not English.

If they’re self-conscious about their spoken English, you may have a hard time getting them on a call. So you’ll just have to plan for mostly written communication.

Challenge 3: Slower timelines

Communication challenges lead to an overall slower process.

Yes, you’re saving money by outsourcing, but are you saving time? Something to think about…

How to tackle these challenges

Chances are, you didn’t really have a say in whether or not you get to work with an outsourced or onshore team.

So let’s make the most of it. Here are a few things you can do to make working with an offshore team easier.

Tip 1: Write clear specs

This is the absolute key to getting what you want from an outsourced dev team.

Everything should have a spec.

You want to have mock ups. You want to have wire frames. You want to have user stories. You want to have walkthroughs wherever you can. You want to have data diagrams.

ANYTHING that you can create to make your developer’s job easier and decrease the number of questions that they’re going to have is going to be worth your time.

Spend the time to write great specs.

Tip 2: Have a style guide

Developers are not always the greatest designers. Having a style resource that contains guidelines and frequently used components will save them a lot of time.

Tip 3: Plan out overlapping time.

If you’re working with a team in a very different time zone, your work schedules are probably not going to overlap super neatly. You may have to get up and go to work a couple hours early or stay a little bit later.

Set some overlapping time on your schedule where the development team can ask you questions and vice versa.

Otherwise, sometimes it can be a whole day between asking a question and getting an answer.

Tip 4: Understand their culture.

This is a big one. Learn how your team likes to communicate. Also, do they have a break/work schedule? What are the big holidays? What’s their communication style?

These things are going to be really critical to how you communicate.

Some cultures prefer to be super direct and to the point. Some don’t use a lot of humor professionally. Some are afraid of disappointing you and won’t let you know if they’re stuck. It really depends on where your team is located…so get to know them and their culture.

So write clear specs, have style guides, schedule overlapping time, and understand their culture. Working with an overseas development can be a challenge at first, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it! As with anything…practice makes perfect.