To Outsource Or Not to Outsource, That is the Question

I just posted the following note on a LinkedIn group I follow in answer to a post about so called "software factories," which is a nice euphemism for overseas developers working for much less than they deserve struggling to meet the unreasonable demands of their bosses. This represents my opinion on the subject:

Never forget that you get what you pay for. Hiring an overseas or even local "software factory" or consultancy to build your software can be problematic at best and a complete waste of time and money at worst.

First, if you cannot communicate, forget about it. Building software is 99% communication and 1% technology. Okay, perhaps I overstate the case. A little. But you cannot overestimate the importance of clear, effective communication.

Second, unless you have the internal people required to manage such a relationship, your project will fail. This means you need project management and technical people in your own organization that you know well and trust. They need to be supremely competent. This is especially true if you plan to hire a firm outside of your own geographical area.

Third, plan for time and budget overages. It is the nature of consulting to promise a low price and quick turnaround and then when you are committed to the project and it is "nearly done," you will be informed that there is much more to do, generally due to legitimate changes in requirements because you did not fully understand what you wanted when the project first began. This is the boon and bane of software development whether internal or external.

Finally, you can have success outsourcing your software development project, but do not make the mistake of thinking that it will save you an enormous amount of time and money, especially for a single application project. It takes time to develop a working relationship with an outside consultantcy, especially one that is half way around the world. If you have multiple projects, long term goals, and a huge budget of time and money, it may in fact be cost effective to have a relationship with a so called "software factory." But if you are a small organization and have one or two projects, you will nearly always be better off hiring a professional locally, usually through one of the many technical recruiting companies, to come into your organization as a contractor to work on-site building exactly what you want as you discover over time what it is you want exactly.