In 2009, the EU introduced Europe’s Green Card equivalent, the Blue Card, allowing highly-skilled non-EU citizens to spackle the cracks in the European job market. This decision inadvertently raised the curtain on Europe’s deep technical potholes. And while it has allowed companies to come up for air by attracting foreign talent, scalability remains a riddle.
Preceding the Blue Card initiative was the muddy outsourcing era guided by a blind quest for cheap software services and an indiscriminate screening of offshore outsourcing vendors providing those. Many companies failed to implement befitting benchmarks which produced a highly problematic and narrow exchange-like mentality towards offshoring, which landed an unduly number of businesses in serious technical turmoil.
And here we are, in the times that ensued the outsourcing mishaps, wondering what comes next. And only one thing does; a sharper and significantly more well-informed approach to offshoring.
And as companies embark on the window shopping of the hyper-crowded road of offshoring opportunities, acquiring the right toolkit can significantly aid the selection process of the best suited offshore vendor on the market. One that remains operational irrespective of model and geographical location.
1. Conceptual Cleanup
Effectively straining the stream of offshoring clutter means getting our concepts straight. As banal as it may sound, applying the right terminology can make or break the entire experience.
Conflating offshoring and outsourcing has long blurred a very crucial distinction between the two.
Outsourcing means that you contract out a function of your business to a third party. Offshoring means that you move parts of your business overseas while maintaining 100% ownership. Recognising this difference makes filtering service providers appreciably easier.
2. Do the groundwork
Hack: Speak to several vendors before deciding on one
Unfortunately, deciding on an offshoring vendor is not an afternoon job. It takes time and it requires careful evaluation. Most stop at scratching the surface while only getting to the bottom will cut it.
Implicitly in this lies the selection of a model fit for our purpose. This job requires a bit of soul-searching in allowing us to profoundly understand our own company, our values and the way we do process and organisation. Then we move on to decide how best to match that with a vendor’s services. Extract the options you need from Google and distill the batch to five or 10 potentials.
And then you ask until the bucket of questions is empty. Cross-compare answers, identify patterns and call back to clarify.
3. Matching of Expectations
Hack: Ensure your expectations are reasonable
As you embark on this ironbound and methodic project, flip the questions on their head and critically reflect on your own expectations. In 2007, The Wall Street Journal compiled a list of seven myths about outsourcing. But instead of carrying out an armed attack on the industry, some very valid critiques of companies’ assessment processes explained the unreasonable criterias that inevitably generate a mismatch between expectations and deliverables.
The lower the cost, the poorer the quality and there truly is no way around that. Of course, India is cheaper than Poland but when assessing vendors in the same geographical locations, rock-bottom prices can also shred your product beyond recognition.
Research on the country’s wage structure is one way that we can better equip ourselves on this journey.
4. Can you bank a developer?
Hack: Hire your team from scratch to ensure excellent product development
Because a portfolio of benched developers appeals so profoundly to our eagerness of getting started, many rush for this option feeling that they receive something tangible.
Generally speaking, there has been a tendency to pigeonhole software developers offshore as technical cash cows. But that’s your project chopped to pieces with an ice pick.
For a strong team you need strong players. Innovative masterminds binging on excellent product development. Indulge on the idea that your developers are co-owners of your project. And to reach that top shelf of product development, only carefully selected profiles will polish your product and brand to perfection.
5. Test Run
Hack: Test your prospective team members according to your specific requirements
A way of easing the navigation of a market which is so crowded, distorted, confusing and competitive is through testing. Because ultimately, we are here to fight off poor code.
Few people have bought a house because the estate agent told them it was a good house. Interviewing CEOs and project managers gives us a first impression to go by but to comprehend the contour of our product two years down the line, we need to know the interior by evaluating more precise technical skill sets.
Eliminating the collateral damage of dreadful code is materialised through integrating technical testing in the recruitment and imprinting your own specifics onto the process. Even those developers resting on the bench should endure this technical funnel.
6. A full R&D centre but no valuable colleagues
Hack: Treat your offshore developers like your colleagues onsite
This section is inextricably linked to the recruitment process but deserves separate scrutiny as it lies at the very core of successful offshoring.
To a great majority, offshoring has equalled outsourcing which in turn has meant an unintentional yet inevitable detachment from the product development process. The developers working on the product become a patchwork solution rather than an extension of the onsite team.
But this approach is corporate suicide; no-one should expect a developer to exert product ownership and be genuinely invested in the company’s prosperity when they are not made part of the decision-making. We cannot expect someone to excel by excluding them.
Be unreservedly committed to onboarding. Speak with the team as often as you can. Ask them about their progress, their ideas and their goals for the week.
7. Procedures for communication and project
Hack: Work directly with your offshore team to optimise the quality of your product
Bumpy project management and clogged communication channels explain why so many companies kicked the bucket offshore.
First and foremost, we need to remember that the quality of project management is model-dependent. On that note, outsourcing has long been known as the number one perpetrator of mediocre software. Not because all aspects of this model are troublesome but because project management is left to a third party. Automatically, the line is (quite literally) cut between you and your developers and messages are getting lost in muddy translation. To add to that, developers are often stretched across several projects simultaneously, thus compromising the attention dedicated to your particular project.
Some good advice is to carefully evaluate the project management structure of the vendors on your list and pick one where you, for instance, actively manage your team. Alternatively, hire a project manager either onsite or offshore who works directly for you and who can get the job done. Not only are you able to set up structures and procedures of product development in unison with your team but communication is also galvanised in the process.
Ask for a reference
Hack: Speak to existing clients and ask A LOT of questions
Who better to validate a vendor’s process and quality than an existing client? Set up a Skype call with a client whose offshore team replicates what you are aiming to build. Ask challenging questions that go beyond the project details and ask about the concerns they might have had prior to embarking on the project and how the vendor addressed them.
If possible, get talking with more than one client as it provides a standard of comparison and naturally hands you more points for your planning process.
European companies are slowly growing accustomed to the fact that developers are a rare breed on the continent. But flicking through the catalogue of offshore vendors often place self-same companies between a rock and a hard place. As our list is not exhaustive, we should stress the importance of groundwork. Carve out plans and strategies exactly as you envision your future team and methodically cross-reference with your hand picked offshore vendors.
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