Today, as long as you have a fast Internet connection, Dropbox and Skype, your designers and coders can work from across the state or halfway around the world. Outsourcing gives your company flexibility and saves you money, but it does have potential pitfalls—particularly if it’s your first time outsourcing.
I've worked with many different types of freelancers, and based on that experience, I’ve put together a list of five common mistakes we made. Here's what to watch out for when outsourcing app development.
Mistake 1: Not Accounting for Time Zone Differences
The Internet has helped create a truly global marketplace, but it’s not without its problems. If your outsourced team isn’t online when you’re doing business, you’ll often find yourself waiting a full day for issues to be resolved. If one of your team members asks a question, the answer may not come back until the next day.
These holdups can push back project timelines, so consider either hiring freelancers who can work the same hours you do or adjusting your schedule to minimize delays.
Mistake 2: Failing to Perform Functional Tests in the End User’s Environment
To ensure your app works well, your testing procedures should closely mimic the scenarios experienced by your expected real end users. You may run into problems if outsourced developers need to simulate or hard-code different use cases.
Think about an app dependent on GPS data that's never actually been tested in the locations it’s designed for because all your testers are working abroad. Don’t let your users pay for the bugs that should have come out during testing. A variety of tools, including VPNs and emulators, can be used to negate these problems when your developers are working abroad.
Mistake 3: Outsourcing to Countries or Companies That Are Behind on Trends
If you’re outsourcing some of your user interface/user experience (UI/UX) work, make sure you’re dealing with people who understand best practices, tech trends and the app culture of your own region. Freelancers working in other countries may be able to code better than anyone, but if they’re using customs, workflows and interfaces unique to their local area, this can create major problems. Readers of some languages don't read from left to right, for instance, and this can cause a major disconnect with how your real users will experience your app. Look for the best UI/UX people who've worked on projects similar to yours (aimed at the same demographic) in the past.
Mistake 4: Hiring a Project Manager With Poor Communication Skills
Effective communication is essential for app development, and a language barrier can make communication much more difficult. It’s crucial that the people you work with understand what you’re saying—including the finer details. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting end results that won’t meet your expectations. A communication breakdown may not be evident until it’s too late, so it’s smart to use a small, trial project to test how closely the deliverables match your requirements.
Mistake 5: Not Protecting Source Code in Jurisdictions Without Trademark or Patent Laws
U.S. companies often assume trademark law, patent law and the outsourcing company contract are enough to protect them, but this isn’t always the case. India, for example, has no patent law, and trademark law and contract clauses can’t be enforced in many other countries. Just because you have a signed agreement with another company not to use your code or designs doesn’t necessarily mean you’re protected. Splitting source code up into independent sections, limiting access to databases and resources, and specifically forbidding the sharing of any materials are all steps you can take to lower the risk of encountering problems in this area.
Outsourcing has worked well for our company, but we’ve learned some hard lessons along the way. One of the biggest? Outsourcing can save you money, but it doesn’t often save you time. To help counter this, we build a buffer into all project timelines to allow for unforeseen problems and changes. We also create all designs in-house, rigorously vet freelancers we hire and are choosy about the code and testing procedures we outsource.
As long as you understand the risks—and take precautions to mitigate them—outsourcing app development can be beneficial and cost-effective for your company.
Gideon Kimbrell is a Miami-based software engineer and serial entrepreneur. By age 16, he had programmed his first "hot or not" style website. He's the founder of InList.com, which curates the most exclusive international nightlife and charity events. Kimbrell is also a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization.
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