Outsourcing software development:a bad idea? (continued)

Managing outsourced work: can that project be saved?

An experienced, well-trained project manager is not enough to guarantee an outsourced development success. It also takes a reliable, trustworthy, competent supplier. Even if the best project management techniques were used to choose a supplier, circumstances can change, turning a reliable supplier into an unreliable one. Some circumstances may be out of the supplier’s control (e.g., attrition, although that’s arguable); others may be due to the supplier’s business decisions (e.g., moving engineers to other projects); still others may be due to poor quality (e.g., engineering, process) that was not obvious during the selection phase.

An in-house development can experience problems and get into trouble too, and most do. But a troubled development is far more difficult to save when it has been outsourced.

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The development team is not under your direct control or the control of someone in your management chain. They work for another company. They do not share your corporate culture or your long term goals. They probably don’t work in your facility, your town, or even your country. You don’t pass them in the hallways or in the cafeteria. You have to make an effort to communicate with them.

You simply do not have the insight or the control that you have with an in-house development. You cannot simply pull your best engineer off of another project and assign him/her to the recovery effort.

It’s difficult to save an outsourced development. And trying to do so will likely cost you money.

Most critical is recognizing as early as possible that a project is in trouble: missing deadlines, or having quality problems. The next step will depend on the relationship you have with the supplier. If there is mutual trust, recovery is possible. A recovery plan must be developed, and the new schedule must be monitored. It might cost you more money than expected to get your product, but you might get it, eventually.

If the supplier loses your trust, if their second try is also a failure, then a tough decision must be made. When do you terminate the contract, and either bring the development in-house or find another, more reliable, supplier? Terminations are never pretty, but at some point you are throwing good money after bad.

If your outsourced development is a success and you have a good quality product that came in on schedule and for the cost you expected, then congratulations. However, you might want to consider some unintended consequences:

More about that in the next post.

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