OK, so it looks like you’re considering offshoring some of the work to other countries and the closest one to your heart seems to be... Poland.
This minimalistic, yet practical, outsourcing guide should let you avoid get hurt. In our 10+ year work with various companies (ad/marketing agencies, software shops, consulting firms, UX boutiques and such) we’ve talked with dozens of managers and are happy now to share piece of advice to help you manage outsourcing projects better.
Researching web development partner. What to pay extra attention to?
As long as staffing up software companies in anticipation of growth is rather “don’t do”1 it is very likely you’re going to need occasional help and ad hoc assistance with some of your projects. Here are few evaluation tips and questions about the specific challenges of hiring remote software teams or external vendors:
Areas of research
Questions to ask
1. How effectively do they communicate? What are the ways of reaching the representative? (Email may not be enough. How about phone, Skype or IM?)
2. What is the time zone they are in? (Do you need your contractor to be in the same time zone as you? Communicating with geographically disperse team may be a pain.)
3. What project management tools they use streamline communication? (Really helpful are Redmine or Basecamp for example)
Recap: Expect to be heard. Good communication is 80% about listening and just 20% about talking. Make sure you can reach your partner by phone or Skype. Expressing emotions about the home page mockup via email may be difficult.
The good thing about most Polish programmers is that they’re comfortable with asking questions.
1. What are their core strengths? Do they just offer coding/programming services? (Or they do a bit more, like write specs, write automated test cases, do code reviews or help write documentation)
Recap: Interdisciplinary team can contribute in lots of different ways to the success of the product. Look for specific experience fit.
1. How does the processes (contracting, development, maintenance and technical support) work?
2. Is there QA department available? How does the manual testing and bugfix verification work?
3. What tools, platforms, and technologies they use?
4. Do they support and use open-source technologies whenever possible?
5. How will they handle your corporate and proprietary information?
Recap: You should know as many details about the infrastructure of the projects they work on.
|Portfolio & References.||
1. “Can I see your portfolio?” I mean full portfolio, together with references.
Recap: Past experience matters. If a company has a long track-record ask for access to a full portfolio, not just a few hand-picked “the very best of” examples featured on their home website. Demand to see most of the recent projects. Ask for code samples too.
|Productivity.||Ideally, you need your offshore labor to be ten times more productive than your average in-house coders. A small, pilot project is the best way to verify vendor’s efficiency.|
Basically, it’s like with hiring individuals… there must be chemistry between you and the candidate. Can’t see a genuine passion for coding and software development? No enthusiasm? Don’t bother yourself, skip to another team.
What goes wrong with outsourced web projects?
Collaborating with remote teams may be challenging, especially for less experienced managers. Well, finding a good fit in this competitive market is a huge challenge itself, but let’s say you already found a promising software-house (located in Poland, of course :). Partnership failure is a real possibility. The ideal business failure is one that leaves you with the ability to learn from what exactly went wrong and, possibly, try again.
Have a failure plan? Good, but in case you don’t have one - read below list of common reasons why web partnerships fail:
- Coming unprepared. When coming to an offshore firm you must make very good specs. No details left out. No guesswork. Can’t (or don’t have time) to write good specs? Hire the team to document the work for you. HTML prototypes are best and don’t leave product open for interpretation.
- Requirements misunderstood. You either didn’t explain project requirements clear enough or your partner didn’t listen to you well enough. Use detailed project planning questionnaires and briefs. Try to form easy to follow to-do lists when delegating tasks. Be as specific and as detailed as you can be.
- Project management neglected. Reason you ask for help from a 3rd party company is that you probably can’t handle that large work volume. Experienced partner will effectively take amounts of work off you but don’t forget communicating and enforcing project needs is time consuming as well.
- Not drawing bigger picture and defining ultimate goals. Narrow minded partner who does not see a goal behind the tasks he’s challenged is the worst what may happen to you. Partner must be aware of what you’re trying to achieve.
- Scheduling project as if it was done in-house. Contractors have their own plannings and it’s recommended that you always consult deadlines prior to arranging with your client. Always add buffer time for consultation, assets/requirements gathering, additional interviews and general work planning.
In fact, that list could be much longer, but aforementioned are one of the big reasons why outsourcing fails.
Top Polish web designers and developers: where to find them?
Look no further but at four main Polish cities: Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow and Wroclaw. All offer solid educational background with reputable universities of technology that crank out graduates (great software engineers) whom everyone wants to hire. The quality of secondary and university education is truly at very high level. Following cities are full of engineering talents and highly skilled software vendors. Motorola, IBM, Sabre and Google are just the bigger names of the companies that opened development labs here.
|Warsaw||Easily find dozen of expert freelancers, skilled web designers and dev shops in Warsaw. With a bit of luck you will meet Geek Girls here.|
|Poznan||Django, Drupal and Rails development shops have their headquarters in Poznań. Poznań is the place where innovative startup ideas flow too!|
|Krakow||Dozens of IT firms and startups here. Krakow stands out as the city full of creative game developers. You can definitely feel technology and entrepreneurship spirit. Hit #omgkrk tag to learn more.|
|Wroclaw||TechCamps (popular Polish barcamp meetups) takes place here. Good programmers and all sort of coding ninjas usually attend HackWro meetups. Some of the best social game developers hide in Wroclaw too.|
When evaluating a service provider pay attention to other factors such as startup experience and deep UX understanding. Both add more value to the partnership than anything else.
When decisions about selecting IT outsourcing partner are made without profound research and analysis, the chances of a good result go way down. Hopefully this 4500-word rant was helpful in decision making process.
In Poland, we say “Powodzenia!”, so good luck in finding Polish technical geniuses!
Sources: 1. Eric Sink on the Business of Software; 2. Paul Graham - Great Hackers 3. Mamstartup.pl