As the global demand for cutting-edge technology grows, so does the need for the highly skilled developers who can build it. But with barriers like budget constraints and an increasingly limited supply of locally based software engineers, more and more businesses are looking beyond their shores for help. In the software industry, offshoring development remains a popular trend that has grown into a multibillion dollar industry.
Still, the concept of offshoring talent for the first time can be scary and overwhelming, but when you know how to approach, recruit and manage quality talent, offshoring can become a valuable part of your business. Here are a few of the top insights I’ve generated from managing many teams and hundreds of engineers in India over the past 18 years:
Tip 1: Make Hiring Senior-Level Developers a Priority
The biggest offshoring mistake companies make is staffing talent without the right level of experience to hit the ground running. As a general rule of thumb, in offshoring software development, it’s best to go with engineers who have at least seven years of experience. Why does having senior-level developers matter? A few things:
- They enjoy being an engineer: at 13.2 percent, the software industry had one of the highest turnover rates of any industry in 2017. Building software is hard, tedious work; burnout definitely plays a factor in the ever-draining U.S. talent pool. An engineer with at least seven years’ experience has demonstrated commitment to the trade.
- They’re likely better developers: a developer with a track record of steady employment with consistent growth over the years is usually better equipped to handle an extensive project than someone who switches employers every few months.
- They prefer developing over management: engineers with at least seven years of experience who are still developing and coding are usually doing so by choice. Rather than taking on the more administrative role of managing and leading a team, they prefer to stick with hands-on, problem-solving tasks.
Tip 2: Build Your Offshore Team as You Would a Local Team
Another common mistake business owners make when managing an offshore development team is not holding it to the same standard as they would a locally sourced team. According to Forbes, China and India have graduated more software engineers than the next four countries (the U.S. included) combined. As such, businesses have the latitude to be selective with offshore talent.
Yes, language and cultural barriers and extreme differences in time zones can be obstacles when working with any overseas team; however, business owners should expect their offshore dev team to produce as high quality of a product as any local team.
The Team Lead
For any dev team to be successful, it needs a competent, experienced engineer as the technical team lead. As you shop engineers for your team lead, keep the following qualities in mind:
- Critical Thinker: a good team lead can think through challenges, navigate timelines, and help build and evolve the roadmap his team will rely on to be effective.
- Master Communicator: team leaders need excellent communication skills—within their team, with the product manager, as well as with any non-technical stakeholders
- Technical Debt Manager: technical debt can accrue through human error, a rush to market, or other unforeseen changes. A good technical team lead can help the team manage this debt to ensure they are spending enough time moving projects forward.
- Elite Collaborator: not only should your team leader identify potential bottlenecks and setbacks facing the team, he or she should also know how to overcome departmental silos between design, operations, and product management.
The next step is building your offshore team around the team lead, filling critical engineering and quality assurance roles. Many offshoring companies will simply supply the most available talent to fill these roles, often in the form of less experienced developers with only two to five years of experience. Not that you can’t get high-quality output from this group, but you should still pursue the best, most experienced talent you can afford.
Tip 3: Leverage Local-Based (U.S.) Management
Offshoring is not a “set it and forget it” solution. Perhaps the best way to unlock the full potential of your offshore software team is to work with local management to provide direction and facilitate communication. For companies without an in-house software support staff, there are two management roles that are essential for offshoring success: Project Managers that can liaise with the team lead and oversee the direction and pace of project completion, and Engineer Managers that can provide guidance and collaboration efforts between the individual programmers on the team. Leveraging locally based management provides two main benefits:
- Resolve blocking issues quickly: the phrase “blocking issues” refers to anything that prevents project completion. What can begin as a 24-hour delay, can quickly escalate into a 48- or even 72-hour complication. Blocking issues can be especially problematic when working around different time zones. Working with local management can help you find the root cause of these issues, as well as communicate a clear solution to resolve them.
- Reduce waste in context switching: a developer is most productive when he or she can get into the “zone” and focus all efforts on one aspect of a project at a time. But when the developer is taken out of the zone, possibly due to blocking issues, that’s called context switching, and it can be a major productivity drain. Multitasking is not a good habit for developers to get into, and local management can help keep the team efficient and reduce wasted time.
In short, implementing local-based management into your offshoring strategy gives you the best of both worlds: the resource-freeing talent of a dedicated offshore team, with the support of local experts.
Bonus Tip: Introduce UX into Your Offshore Dev Process
Consumers expect websites and mobile apps to be clean, navigable, and attractive. User experience (UX) is rapidly becoming one of the most important software development needs across all industries. The online usability profession is expected to grow exponentially over the next thirty years and it should come as no surprise that companies are outsourcing their UX needs at a similar rate.
Introducing UX into the offshore dev process allows companies of all sizes to meet heightened digital standards, keep up with user expectations, and secure their brand identity without going totally broke. In my experience, it can also reduce your dev time by up to 30 percent.
A successful offshoring strategy doesn’t materialize overnight. But when done right, offshoring software development provides a number of benefits to help businesses keep up in an increasingly digital world: among other things, it’s cost-efficient, it frees up important internal resources, and it gives businesses access to talented, efficient teams that would not have been available locally.