Whether you are working as part of an outsourced team or you’re in-house managing an outsourced resource there is one aspect that rings true about both experiences. That is, poorly defined expectations for outsourced partners will derail your project. And, the communication skills of all parties involved will make or break your venture.
A Case Study in Poor Outsourcing Management
I was part of an outsourced web design team tasked with migrating online content for an international client. Expectations were set, but they were vague. We agreed to deliver XYZ but the client failed to communicate what their vision of success looked like and how we would be fitting into their process.
The client gave us a drop-dead date, access to their documentation and proprietary CMS and not much else. Communications were bottle-necked by the client’s Project Manager who rarely bothered to read email, and when they did, never seemed to fully credit the validity of the team’s questions, concerns, or suggestions. Expectations like development processes and deadlines fluxed constantly. Resulting in a constant scramble to understand where and how we could best help our partner.
These issues turned what should have been a straightforward project into a nightmare. As the drop-dead date rolled around it was clear the wheels had fallen off the project and the engine wasn’t far behind. Everyone was forced to scramble for solutions. We worked weeks of overtime to fix what shouldn’t have happened in the first place—a project off the rails—due to communication missteps and unclear expectations.
Despite our team’s willingness to communicate, set expectations, or simply find out which project aspect was the focus at any one time, the client’s lack of planning and trust led to lack of communication, which led to failure. This conflict broke the migration and our team’s spirits.
This tale of outsourced woe is cautionary, and frankly, an outlier. More often, I’ve enjoyed collaboration as both the outsourcer and outsourcee to achieve product innovation, align with organizational strategy, allow each partner to focus on core competencies, and to leverage core competencies into product assets. The benefits of outsourcing software testing are enormous, but finessing the details requires strategy.
Why Outsource to a Software Testing Company?
Today’s digital leaders face rapid shifts as innovations in IoT, VR/AR, Big Data, and SaaS drive market evolution and increase user expectations. These changes, combined with the large variety of digital interfaces, have created an environment where knowledge silos don’t work and trust underlies productive outsourcing partnerships. The decision to outsource software testing has shifted from a cost-driven strategy to one that benefits by strategically leveraging partnerships. For a more detailed look the business benefits of outsourced SQA, read this article.
Outsourced Relationship Management
You’ve picked a software testing company you’d like to partner with but the decision to outsource doesn’t end there. Outsourced relationships are complex. They rarely flow from contract to process to finished product in a linear manner.
Communication and expectations are the key to any successful working relationship but become especially important when you are managing an outsourcing partner. We know that software test management is a dynamic practice. Developing and testing software asks all parties to adapt to shifting input ranging from device configurations to user feedback. Give your outsourced test partner clear direction on project goals and partner roles to eliminate confusion and enable them to add the business value you hired them for.
Outsourced Software Testing – 4 Rules to Guide Your Management Strategy
Choosing to outsource your software testing is a difficult choice. One that is far too often a made based on cost cutting or a frantic attempt to meet production deadlines. Outsourcing should be a strategic decision. One that is made with care and with a solid plan in place for mutual goals, deliverables, and communication.
1. Fully Develop, Then Share Your Action Plan
Think of your management plan as a roadmap to how the relationship can achieve best value for all parties. The first step to create this plan should be a thorough review of what’s needed and why. Involve your stakeholders, fine-tune the details, then create a document detailing the what and why. This document should have the objectives required of the outsourced partner, what constitutes contractual ‘good behavior’ from both parties, and how disputes will be handled. Use clear and concise language for your action plan and make it available to all parties.
2. Eliminate Ambiguity
Ambiguity sucks. Unclear or imprecise directions have sent more than one team off on an unproductive tangent. Stop ambiguity before it starts by defining:
- Who will do what? This eliminates the potential for duplication of effort.
- Who is responsible? Mapping out specifics such as who will create test scenarios, how bug-reporting will flow, and what the expected performance markers are early in the process will save time and trouble down the road.
3. Create Opportunities for Open and Honest Communication
As with any relationship, it can be difficult to gauge one’s place in the larger picture without open and honest communication. The first part of effective communication with your outsourced partner is to simply remember to communicate! This builds rapport, trust, and allows you to catch issues as they arise. Often, a 10-minute video chat is all it takes to clarify who is doing what, what has been done, and what is needed to move forward.
Keep in mind that open and honest also means giving and receiving feedback. It could be that your outsourced software test company isn’t meeting your expectations. Be forthright yet objective with this discussion, bring examples, and be ready to detail the improvements you’d like to see. Of course, feedback can flow the other way. It may be that your outsourced partner has the advantage of a fresh perspective on your business processes. Be willing to consider suggestions for process improvements. After all, they’re vested in seeing you succeed.
4. Be Realistic
Your outsourced team are humans, just like your internal team. The outsourced company is a company just like yours. It’s essential you understand the abilities and restrictions of your outsourced partner. You’re asking them to commit to your schedule, your project, and your success…as defined by you. There’s rarely a good time to break out the whip, but when it happens make sure you haven’t driven your outsourced partner into over-promising through ambiguous expectations or unclear communication.