Why is transparency important when you outsource app development?

As of 2020, the worldwide spend on IT outsourcing services is estimated to reach almost 445 billion USD, according to the Outsourcing and Shared Services 2019-2023 report by Deloitte. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, ITO holds the promise of saving time and money, facilitating innovation, as well as building a competitive advantage. But if you're counting on getting the firsthand experience of all these benefits, you need to bear in mind that building a contracting relationship on trust and transparency is essential to success.

In fact, if you take a look at Jim Hemmington’s “The Buyer’s Wish List”, you’ll notice that we can’t talk of successful and mutually satisfying collaboration unless the client-service provider relationship is fully transparent, regardless of the industry in question.

What clients expect when they outsource app development

The same rule applies to software development outsourcing which, according to the abovementioned Deloitte report, accounted for almost 60% of the total OSS market in 2019. Often involving cooperation with a vendor from the other side of the world, IT outsourcing can be a breeding ground for fraud. Irregular communication, hidden costs, low quality of the final product – these are just some of the risks that choosing any software development Tom, Dick, or Harry entails.

Knowing that you probably won’t be surprised to hear that transparency should be your no. 1 concern when you decide to outsource app development. But with so many IT outsourcing service providers, how will I know that my prospective tech partner is truly candid, you may ask? Of course, you can never know for sure but if you follow the checklist we’ve prepared for you, there’s a high chance your collaboration will bring success and value sooner than you think.

How to deal with the most common dilemman of IT outsourcing? Ebook

Are the vendor’s processes transparent?

First and foremost, you need to look for a tech partner who’s ready to help you observe and understand all software development actions they undertake. This can be achieved with transparent agile software development processes based on Scrum and Kanban.

Agile transparency is ensured by the values defined in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:

  • individuals and interactions over processes and tools,
  • working software over comprehensive documentation,
  • customer collaboration over contract negotiation,
  • responding to change over following a plan.

In theory, these principles are to foster information sharing and create an atmosphere of inclusion, which should then translate into greater trust between the stakeholders involved in outsourcing app development. When it comes to practice, the four values can be best observed in the work of teams following one of the two most prominent Agile frameworks: Scrum and Kanban.

How Scrum and Kanban encourage transparency in app development outsourcing

Let me start with Scrum which – being used by 54% of the 13th annual State of Agile survey’s respondents – is the most widely-practiced agile framework. It was developed and popularized in the 1990s by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber who based the framework on three pillars. One of them is transparency defined in the Scrum Guide as making “significant aspects of the process (...) visible to those responsible for the outcome”.

3 pillars of scrum

Following the Scrum process, a trusted outsourcing partner can exercise transparency in several ways, including:

  • Ensuring that all the parties involved speak a common language, especially when it comes to the procedures, project visions, and the definition of done.
  • Documenting all user stories, features, enhancements, and fixes in the product backlog.
  • Facilitating a steady flow of information with frequent talks and reports about risks, opportunities, and all stages of the software development process.
  • Being honest about team performance and visualizing the amount of work that needs to be done before the end of the Sprint on a burn-down chart.

Transparency is also one of the eight core values of Kanban whereby it takes the form of process visualization, the introduction of explicit policies, and the creation of feedback loops. First of all, the trajectory of the outsourced app development project is visualized on a Kanban board which – in its simplest form – informs the stakeholders on both the client and the vendor side on the tasks falling within “to-do”, “in progress”, and “done” categories.

Sample Kanban board

Here’s how tasks move across the Kanban board

Then, Kanban presupposes the definition of both the high- and step-level process policies, e.g. on handling the backlog or resolving defects, thus contributing to an increase in workflow stability and openness about procedures. Finally, regular feedback loops or cadences promote transparency by aligning all the parties involved and ensuring they’re on the same page regarding current and future goals. And if these arguments aren’t enough to convince you that Kanban is beneficial for IT projects, you can read an entire article describing how it helps us streamline the software development process.

Scrum + Kanban: an interesting choice if you outsource app development

Both Scrum and Kanban can turn out highly profitable for certain types of ventures. However, if you want to make the most of all of them when outsourcing an IT project, you might consider going for Scrum enhanced with Kanban. It will help you not only build an effective team and deepen understanding of the product (that’s how it benefits from Scrum) but also optimize workflow, foresee the dynamics of change, and arrive at the highest level of transparency there can be (thanks to Kanban practices).

What does client-team cooperation look like?

It’s one thing to learn that the company you consider outsourcing app development to holds the Agile principle dear to its heart but experiencing how it implements them in everyday client-team cooperation is a different (even more important) story.

On-site visit: build trust from the very beginning

I probably won’t surprise you if I say that on-site visits are a great tool for seeing who makes the vendor’s team up and how it functions on a daily basis. Real-life meetings are especially useful at the beginning of the project when they can foster transparency in two ways. On the one hand, they serve as ice-breakers which prevent any culture-based misunderstandings from happening in the future. What’s more, they show the client that the company is 100% honest about its size and structure. On the other hand, they provide a platform for knowledge-sharing (e.g. in the form of discovery sessions or product design workshops) and help set common goals as well as the right direction for future collaboration.

Here’s what our long-distance clients think about product design workshops and on-site visits at Merixstudio

Day-to-day communication

You already know that Agile emphasizes building trust through interaction and collaboration. This premise is embodied by regular meetings, such as Daily or Review meetings.

However, if your wish is to outsource app development to a fully transparent software house, framework-specific gatherings should be just a beginning. In addition to them, the vendor ought to ensure a steady flow of information between you and the outsourced development team with the use of relevant communication tools. Depending on factors at play (e.g. cultural conventions or time zone difference), these may include video conference software, instant messaging platforms, and many more.

Regular communication is what builds trust when you outsource app development

At Merixstudio, for example, the core of our client-team communication is Slack (for making quick arrangements and catching up), Google Meet (for holding video calls), and good old email (mostly for making formal arrangements). At the same time, however, we value flexibility and thus remain open to adjusting communication channels to our clients’ needs and preferences.

What matters most at the end of the day, is whether the chosen channels allow for regular communication and active collaboration regardless of the time-zone difference.

If that’s the case, you’re surely dealing with an IT outsourcing company that cares for building trusting and constructive relationships. Looking for a reliable tech partner, you’ll surely appreciate such an attitude – just like our clients did when building their digital products with us. Here’s what they had to say about the quality of communication with Merixstudio’s team:

We were also surprised at the openness and transparency of the team, as well as the approach to project management. We had direct slack communication with the whole team as well as regular formal updates from the project manager. Everything was documented and recorded, there was never a situation where we asked for information or clarity and there was a delay in collecting the information, it was always on hand. We had daily communication both through slack as well as invision for the designs. – Alister Sneddon, Genuine Impact

They were very good and very responsive. We used Jira for project management. There were video calls at the end of our two-week sprints, but we communicated mostly through Slack. Whenever I had a question, they were really prompt in their response. I visited Poland and had the opportunity to visit their office. – Dr. Tim Rosengart, SelfmadeEnergy

Is the vendor ready to take ownership of the outsourced app development project?

One of the main concerns entrepreneurs have about outsourcing app development is that the vendor’s team will show little – if not complete lack of – project ownership. That’s understandable, especially if we think of big corporations that don’t hesitate to frequently move developers across teams or have them juggle multiple projects at once. Fortunately, there are software houses that do the exact opposite: they foster a sense of accountability by assigning each client a Project Manager and promoting a caring work culture.

Project Manager: the orchestral conductor of your outsourced software development project

Think about your tech partner’s developers, testers, designers, etc. as musicians. Of course, you can try choosing the first-rate band yourself or even ask the vendor’s representative to lend you a helping hand in this matter but without a knowledgeable conductor each of your players may end up performing a different symphony. The conductor in question is a Project Manager who acts as a link between the client (that’s you and your colleagues) and the outsourcing company and whose role in your project’s success can’t be overestimated for a couple of reasons.

To begin with, the vendor’s PM acts as a guarantee of the team-client mutual understanding. That’s crucial if you consider the massive impact that language, time zones, and cultural sensitivities can have on the progress of the software development project. Having firsthand experience of the company’s internal policies (e.g. the ones concerning preparing estimations or managing backlog), the Project Manager ensures their high quality is sustained. On top of that, knowing the team’s personal preferences, the in-house PM can motivate developers without putting too much pressure on them and while respecting the company’s work culture.

Project Managers facilitate client-team communication and increase transparency in outsourcing app development

Project Manager can help you translate your vision into the technical requirements and vice versa

Boosting effectiveness without imposing too much pressure brings me to another benefit of hiring the vendor’s Project Manager to oversee the work: no need for micromanagement. If you were to keep an eye on the development process yourself, you might feel tempted to check on the developer’s progress a couple of times a day. While no one blames you for caring about your vision, you need to be aware of the fact that such an attitude usually backfires and results in impeding the team’s performance (not to mention the rising tension).

Engaging the tech partner’s PM in the process, on the other hand, you make sure that every step forward is tracked and that devs spend time coding rather than writing progress reports. In other words, you get to enjoy a fully transparent relationship with the team. And we can tell you that clients do appreciate this when they outsource app development to Merixstudio:

Their team’s genuine interest in the business idea and revenue model led to the development of a platform that solves a real problem. Merixstudio doesn’t need to be micromanaged and acts more as a partner rather than a one-off vendor. Hiring them early-on in the project will ensure stellar results. – Jonas Ekegren, Walaro

Finally, a Project Manager is responsible for maintaining high communication standards. While we’ve already discussed the importance of regular communication above, it needs to be stressed out that it would be much more difficult to attain without an in-house PM in the team. Just think about arranging meetings and booking conference rooms – unless you’re on the spot, it may get quite tricky.

Speed up mobile app development - Merixstudio ebook

Does the vendor inform you about risks and suggest alternative solutions?

Talking about ownership, we need to underline that your vendor’s team – Project Manager in particular – needs to be proficient in managing risks as well as suggesting alternative solutions that fit your business objectives best.  

Whichever industry you’re involved in, one thing is for sure: nobody can guarantee that the road to success will be smooth. Outsourcing app development is no exception to this rule. Members of the vendor’s team can get sick or quit their job, and the market trends can change 180 degrees. A reliable tech partner, however, uses their experience to identify potential obstacles and inform you about how likely they are to occur as well as to mitigate the unavoidable damages. And that’s exactly what we do at Merixstudio.

Our risk management process starts at the beginning of each project with a kick-off meeting during which we compile the list of threats, assess their probability and impact, as well as brainstorm the best preventive actions that can be undertaken. As the development cycle progresses, we continue identifying and counteracting risks that may occur along the way. Once a given project is finished, we treat it as an invaluable lesson and a means of improving our processes. It’s also worth mentioning that when discussing potential obstacles, we consult not only the project team but also C-level executives, which allows us to manage risks at various levels.

To give you an idea about how important proper risk management is for the project’s success, let me quote one of our clients:

Whenever there was a feeling of something not going well, such as the communication with a team member, Merixstudio had a good sense for it, and they had an excellent process to escalate issues in the best way. They addressed issues right away before they became problematic. They’re quite proactive when it comes to communication or anticipating issues with the team or the timetable. They contacted us immediately and requested a meeting, and stayed in touch for the next couple of weeks until they were sure the problem was covered. This helped a lot. – Eduard Ramender, Sheepblue

Furthermore, if the company you’re working with prioritizes transparency, you can expect them to speak honestly (albeit not brutally) about the weaknesses of your business plans and the feasible alternative tech choices. So when looking for a perfect candidate for outsourcing app development don’t look for just a vendor. Instead, look for a proactive partner ready to discuss their suggestions with full confidence. After all, you don’t need to be aware of all the technicalities and intricacies of managing app development projects – that’s our job to handle them.

Do you know what you’re paying for when you outsource app development?

Another factor to consider when looking for a trusted partner who you can outsource app development to is billing transparency. Of course, you can’t approach a software development company and expect them to put an unchangeable price tag to your business idea right away. What you can expect, however, is a budget estimate telling you how much money you need in order to make your vision come true in a given context. In this respect, every software house has its own policy regarding estimates scope and the stage at which they’re most often created as well as their scope – and Merixstudio is no exception.

When it comes to the scope, our estimates include information about the type of user, views, and features that a given digital product is going to encompass, as well as all the necessary client-team meetings. This serves as a starting point for assessing the amount of time that the team – meaning backend and frontend developers, UX and UI designers, QA specialists, as well as Project Managers – have to spend on making your vision come true. To make our estimates comprehensible, we put the above-mentioned information in tables corresponding with the version of the product (MVP, version 2, etc.) and translate it into the budget needed for completing respective tasks. While we don’t compile separate optimistic and pessimistic estimates, we always leave a budget margin to help us manage risks more effectively.

As far as the point in time when estimates are delivered is concerned, there are two possible scenarios. The more common one is us compiling the approximation only once the Product Design workshops have been conducted. Preserving this order of events allows not only to assemble the teams that will most likely work on a given project until its launch but also to dig deep into product requirements and dispel any doubts early on. The other option is a high-level estimate which doesn’t require any workshop sessions to take place beforehand. This, however, is based on assumptions only which makes it less detailed and effective. Thus, unless the client shows great motivation and acute awareness of their requirements, we suggest going for the former option – which is more profitable for both parties involved in outsourcing app development.

Can the vendor provide you with former clients’ reviews?

So you’ve contacted a prospective business partner and they’ve told all about how transparent their processes and estimates are. While there is no reason to disbelieve them, at this point you have every right to find out more about projects they’ve completed and check what their other clients had to say about the quality of cooperation in the past.

When it comes to the former, feel free to examine their previous works and ask for a full portfolio, not just a few hand-picked “the very best of” examples featured on their homepage. Look for specific experience fit, similar projects, and clients. It’s also a good idea to see their GitHub projects and code samples.

As far as the latter is concerned, check the vendor’s position within the independent rankings published on trustworthy B2B Ratings & Reviews pages like Clutch or The Manifest. These two aggregate the opinions of clients gathered during in-depth interviews and show the aspects essential to choose a proper partner in software app development. This way, you’ll ensure that the software house of your choice is a credible partner.

Top Custom Software Development Companies according to Clutch

Leaders Matrix from Clutch showing the highest rated companies in Custom Software Development (10.01.2020)

Final thoughts on trust in outsourcing app development

Selling app development outsourcing services is a bit like selling a promise. The IT outsourcing company may promise the moon and stars but unless the actions meet the words, we cannot really talk about trust. For this reason alone, when searching for a dependable tech partner, you need to look for a software house that follows transparent procedures. Only then can you be sure that your digital project is in safe hands.

Get in touch with us to see how transparent your relationship with an IT outsourcing company can be.

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