Outsourced Software Testing: Friend or Foe?
The standard argument for outsourcing has been done to death. As in, “We all get it. ‘Nuff said.” The term itself originated in the 80’s to describe contracting with external entities to provide “an exchange of services, expertise, and payments”. Outsourcing, in its most basic interpretation, is a business maneuver to save money. By ‘saving money’ I’m referring to companies who outsource manufacturing by locating their facilities in areas with fewer restrictions or a lower employment wages with the goal of increasing revenue. This definition casts a dark shadow on any discussion of the idea, and unfortunately, such limited understanding only serves to exacerbate the divide between in-house and external teams. Outsourced software testing is a means of expanding and enhancing a product offering, not a ‘make-it-cheaper’ ideology.
What if we understood outsourced software testing services to be a method which facilitates an organization’s focus on core competencies, while fueling innovation through external input and mitigating a shortage of skill or expertise in build-specific areas? Augmenting your software test team externally might fill your need to address a gap in your in-house expertise, or to test a product on platforms it doesn’t make sense to purchase.
Outsourced software testing services aren’t a ‘replacement’ for your employees. Even in this view, outsourcing can save your organization time and money by focusing SDLC actions to best utilize individual or team skill-sets!
What If Your In-house QA Team Gives Outsourced QA the Evil-Eye?
Here’s the thing: if you are a project manager with a high-level view of business requirements, you are responsible not only for SDLC processes, but those small details — like the build budget. You ask yourself questions like: “Does it make sense to invest in several mobile devices to use in testing…or could you confidently outsource this to a company with the hardware (and experience!) to complete the tests?” Further, say you decided your project budget allowed for the purchase of several different mobile devices. Now you ask yourself, will we ever use this hardware again? (Think about the bride’s wedding dress…or the groom’s tux. Who spends that much money on a one-and-done? And don’t give me that argument about saving the attire for your kids. Fashion changes fast! Just like hardware does…)
Today’s business reasons for outsourcing QA go beyond the original ‘cost saving’ paradigm. Outsourced software testing allows smart companies to provide stronger releases, at a quicker pace and your employees need to know this! In-house teams are vested in both their work and their jobs. It’s safe to assume they’d like to do right by their employer and to keep their paychecks rolling in! A difference in understanding business strategy can translate into your tribe regarding outsourced QA as a threat. Here’s where you, as a manager, can help alleviate employee concern about outsourcing.
Outsourced QA Tip #1 – Communicate
Outsourcing can confuse employees who don’t understand why you are doing so and add challenges to the daily workflow. Confusion (or resentment) creates a less-than-positive work culture, which can severely impact productivity. The best way to deal with this is prevent it from happening. How?
Provide transparent communication to your team about the reasons for outsourcing. Frame outsourcing as a strategic business decision meant to achieve objectives through targeted use of outside resources with appropriate skill sets. Position outside resources as partners (NOT competitors!) and an extension of the existing team. Highlight your internal team’s areas of expertise and remind them that outsourcing will allow them to focus on what they do best!
To facilitate partnership, it’s best to establish workflow and communication protocols early in the collaboration. It’s true that outsourcing often brings workflow challenges, and the area most likely to be a workflow pain-point is cross-team communication. Clumsy communication protocols can hinder progress, create redundancy of effort, and lead to lack of clarity. These three issues have the potential to negate each and every expected benefit of outsourcing. Create protocols for information sharing, define workflows (who does what), and build a shared strategy, then lay it all out on the table. Communicate (and enforce!) these details to both teams with honesty and confidence.
QA Outsourcing Tip #2 – Scrum!
I’ve worked with teams as both the outside resource, and the internal team member. I’ve seen Slack channels get garbled and email threads get lost. I’ve felt the frustration of seeking clarification through multiple points of contact and getting different answers. I’ve had to re-do days worth of work because an ‘inside’ contact went on vacation and didn’t leave process updates for the external team. (Yes, really — and oh so frustrating!)
From this experience the biggest piece of advice I have is:
A daily Scrum via Hangouts or Skype is the key to cross-team communication!
Yeah, I said it. But seriously, dear reader, if you find yourself in the position of managing a project with outsourced talent, please schedule daily or weekly video conferences. Just like an internal Scrum, an external video conference strips away the communication clutter. A 15-minute chat resolves issues far quicker (and with less misunderstanding) than a 2-hour Slack conversation and putting voices and faces to names will help integrate both teams. It’s much harder to feel threatened by someone when they’re no longer a faceless name in an email thread.
Final Thoughts on Outsourced Software Testing
One area with a large impact on communication and workflow is whether you’ve outsourced onshore or offshore. Offshore software QA will complicate communications in additional ways including differences in time and culture. If your partner is on the other side of the globe, Scrums become much harder to coordinate. How will you address this?
Cultural differences can be un-examined barriers to progress and often ask employees to address unconscious biases or modify unconscious behavior. You may find Professor Hofstede’s research into the 6 Dimensions of National Culture a useful tool when prepping for offshore collaboration.
To conclude, the most helpful thing management can do to remedy both internal and external concerns in outsourced QA is communicate. Yes, really. My suggestion might feel like something out of ‘one of those’ magazines, but maybe they’re not off the mark. Communication is a vital part of any relationship and nowhere more so than in outsourced software testing. Build your business relationships on a solid foundation of targeted communication protocols and you’ll realize the power of outsourcing!