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Outsourcing is a valuable resource, especially as the IT industry becomes more and more crowded. It gives you access to an almost unlimited supply of skills and the freedom to fit almost any budget. If it goes well that is.

While outsourcing affords a company a lot of opportunities, it also carries with it the risk of disaster. If you haven’t experienced it yourself, then you probably know someone who has. Everyone has a story to share, but for every story of catastrophic outsourcing, there is a tale of great success. So what is the difference? Why are some companies having so much success while others are wishing they had never tried?

Many are quick to denounce the process as flawed, but when you consider how the practice has grown over the last decade and the number of success stories, that argument falls flat. Many more blame the vendor, and while in many cases the provider was probably less than ideal, to blame it entirely robs companies of their control over the success of their outsourcing venture, which isn’t accurate either.

There is no such thing as a sure thing, but you do have the tools to give yourself the best possible chance for success. Good outsourcing starts before you ever talk to an outsourcing vendor.

Take the time to plan

Many companies set themselves up for failure from the start by not spending enough time planning. If you are on a tight timeline and anxious to get started, then it is even more important that you slow down and take the proper time to plan. Time you spend planning in the beginning is time you’ll save on damage control later.

Set specific goals

Just like any other business venture, you need to know exactly what you hope to accomplish. You decided to outsource for a reason, what specifically did you want to gain? And before you answer, “save money” or “get the project done” are not specific goals.
Think about why you decided to outsource a project rather than getting it done another way. If you wanted to launch a project sooner, how much sooner? If you wanted to cut costs, how much did you hope to save? Think in terms of quantifiable data. Once you have a full list, weigh them for importance. Figure out which goals have a rigid pass/fail criterion and which have a little flexibility.

However you choose to do it, just remember that you can’t judge whether a venture was truly a success (or a failure) if you don’t have some markers that you set out to reach or context in which to evaluate it.

Outline specific expectations

Take all those goals and think about how you expect your outsourcer to help you reach them. Also think about general expectations for the working relationship. How do you expect your outsourced team to work? What do you expect from the end-product? How do you expect them to react when you have an emergency fix or something breaks suddenly?
Make sure everyone is on the same page

Don’t just ponder these and move on. Write everything down and then pass the lists around so everyone in your company that will be involved knows where everything stands and has a chance to give input. Perhaps the most important thing is going over these goals and expectations with your outsourcing vendor. It is unreasonable to say a company didn’t live up to your expectations if you never told them what your expectations were.

No detail is too small or too obvious. Not every company puts the same importance on the same values, so be careful not to overlook things you take for granted in your own company.

Know when to be flexible

Sometimes things change throughout the course of a project and you have to be willing to be flexible when necessary so as not to stand in the way of success. On the other hand, know on which points you can’t budge and which requirements have to be met without question.

Always have a back-up plan

Having a plan B can mean the difference between a set-back and total failure. You’re not being pessimistic, you’re being realistic. For every step you plan to take, stop and consider the ways in which it could go wrong, and what you would do in each situation to avert disaster. Make decisions on how you would act while you’re calm, instead of figuring out how to react while you’re panicking.

Know your limitations

Before you choose your vendor, it is vital that you are aware of your own limitations so you can take them into account throughout the outsourcing process. Know your company’s limitations, your team’s limitations, your project’s limitations and your own limitations. Limitations come in many forms and you have to respect them if you hope to have any success. You know your limiting factors better than anyone, but here are some examples that are particular trouble makers.

Is your time limited?

Outsourcing does save you a lot of time, but you still have to reserve some time to check in with the team, make sure the project is on track, do some demos, etc. If you are strapped for time each week, make sure you (or someone on your staff) carve out as much time as needed and sticks to a schedule. If you only have two hours every Wednesday, schedule that as a weekly meeting time to check in and make sure everything is on track. If you don’t have any time at all to spare, involve someone in your office who does.

Do you have a strict budget?

If you have a tight budget, you need to find a solution that allows you to honor that. This doesn’t mean you choose the cheapest option, it means you may have to search a little harder to make sure you get the best value. Take your time when choosing a vendor and pay close attention during development to make sure you stay on track. It may take a little longer, but it pays off.

Does your project have a strict time-line?

If time is the main factor, then seek out a vendor with a reputation for timely project completion (call their references). Have a strict timeline drawn out from the start with weekly checkpoints and check in more regularly with those doing the work to make sure it is on track. You can’t afford to just trust that it is getting done; you have to know it is.

Successful outsourcing comes down to finding the right resource for your specific needs, so before you begin make sure you set yourself up for success and know what exactly those needs are and how you want to meet them.

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