Problems with Offshore Development, and How to Avoid Them

Offshore Development
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7 min

Problems with Offshore Development, and How to Avoid Them

Offshoring is big business, with financial stakes high enough that things can get complicated sometimes, and problems are bound to arise. Sometimes the issues are on the contractor side, other times it's the contracting agency that might prove troublesome. But one thing is for certain, offshoring, just like any other big business enterprise, it's not without problems.

This article delves into some of the issues that may arise during offshore development projects, and how to avoid them.

Is offshore development right for you?

Just like every person is an individual, featuring a constellation of traits, idiosyncrasies, and ideas, every business is unique. When it comes to business, there is no such a thing as a 'one size fits all' solution. Businesses are nuanced, and so each company should adopt a strategy that is tailored to its own intended development path.

Because of this need for selective strategy, companies should consider whether or not outsourcing is the right approach. In some cases, outstaffing might emerge as a better alternative. For example, companies that already employ an in-house software development team might be better served by adopting an outstaffing approach. In this instance, outstaffing personnel will simply complement and augment the existing team.

But if, after careful consideration and planning, the business decides that outstaffing is the way to go, it is worth working on a detailed roadmap and preparing for potential problems along the way.

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Offshoring: potential problems and solutions

Offshoring has a lot of moving parts: contractors, administrative tasks, financial frameworks, different languages, etc. The potential for things to go wrong does exist, and while sometimes issues might be unavoidable, careful planning, thorough market research, and a certain degree of background checks can minimize them.

There are many potential pitfalls, but these are some of the most common:

Poor communication, language issues, and cultural barriers

Outsourcing is an international enterprise, often involving people with different cultural backgrounds and native languages. In some cases, local cultural traits might cause miscommunication and lead to messages and intentions being misconstrued.

Solution: engage with English-speaking companies

The simplest to eliminate this problem is by engaging with companies whose staff can speak English, if not like a native, to a very high standard. This applies both to spoken and written communication. And while cultural issues should be considered as a matter of ethical and professional courtesy, they should not become barriers. If they do, the client should probably consider a different vendor.

Insufficient vendor evaluation

The professional world is full of software engineers. Like in any other field, some of the engineers are good, honest, and dedicated professionals, while others might have some shortcomings. Because of what's at stake, companies intending to engage in outsourcing must perform thorough checks to ascertain the vendor's track record. Failure to do so could result in poor outcomes.

Solution: extensive research

To prevent this issue from happening in the first place, the company should engage in extensive interviews with the vendor to ascertain expertise and track record. The vendor should be able to provide testimonials and previous customer references (which should be checked.) And crucially, these interviews should be conducted by staff involved in software development, so that they can accurately gauge the vendor's expertise.

Growing costs

A company's budget probably has the most significant bearing on whether a project reaches conclusion or is canned somewhere along the way. This can be particularly devastating for software projects, as failure to finalize the work can have huge consequences for the client and third parties that might be expecting to use that software.

Solution: detailed financial plan

A detailed financial plan from the outset will ensure the project starts on a sound financial footing, but there's always the possibility that costs rise because of inflation, staffing issues, even malfeasance.

Risk management

This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects to keep under control. The client should have a thorough risk management plan in place from the outset. This plan should include disaster recovery.

Solution: Risk management protocol

The best (and perhaps, only) strategy to deal with this is the creation of a solid risk management protocol. This will serve as a reference throughout the entire duration of the project and enable the client to deal with any emerging situation promptly.

Data loss

This issue crosses over with risk-management. Losing computer data can be annoying. Losing data during the course of high-profile software development project can be absolutely devastating.

Solution: maintain a reliable backup service

To prevent data loss, the client should maintain a reliable backup service that can ensure data restoration.

Weak quality control

Millions of clients worldwide engage in outsourcing projects every day. Most of the work is done perfectly, and on time. But things can slip up from time to time. Bugs can creep into the code. Poor quality control can lead to undesired situations.

Solution: QA engineering

To avoid this, a team of QA engineers should be embedded within the development team. QA personnel can check and review the software to ensure that the final product is solid and reliable.

Intellectual property ownership

The issue of intellectual property rights can be a complicated one. Every country's set of laws can differ and make unexpected or unusual provisions regarding intellectual property.

Solution: clear contracts

To make everything crystal clear, clients should create contracts that unequivocally lay out who will retain ownership following the project's finalization.

Delayed deliverables

In any professional setting, delays will occur from time to time. Sometimes, circumstances beyond anyone's control intervene and the delivery of work lapses for one or more days. In an outsourcing situation where the vendor or vendors are located abroad, this issue might become exacerbated. Obscure local holidays or working practices for instance might mean that a certain set of deliverables is not returned within the agreed timeframe.

Solution: solid roadmap

The best solution to stamp out this issue is the setting (and strict enforcement) of agreed deadlines. An unequivocal roadmap, with clear checkpoints, will help everyone to stay on top of the project's path to delivery. Yet, projects might hit unforeseen snags or run into problems because of many reasons, so it's a good idea to build in a certain window of time into that deadline, to allow for unexpected circumstances.

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