In the new business environment, the decision to outsource software development function comes most times as economic and sometimes as strategic option, but not without the risk of losing control over operational effectiveness, efficiency and the implementation speed.
According to Deloitte’s global survey report, 87% of respondents have experienced “a disruptive incident involving third parties”. Such figures obviously trigger anxiety over outsourcing relationships, but there are silver linings too—the Project and Portfolio Management Survey reveals that IT project success rate is improving since 2016.
What has changed?
According to Mark Langley, CEO and president of PMI, “in the past, organizations might only think about benefits maturation and realization once the project had closed! But now, we see they’re looking at that from the beginning and using that as a measure of success or failure.” Today software development companies have become more matured with project management. They are valuing transparency; operating in a more cross-functional manner that is blurring the line between business and IT.
In the software development outsourcing process, you get transparency by empowering teams to connect and share information, as—“connectivity enables transparency”—famously quoted by Bill Gates. However, connecting the right information with the right team is necessary otherwise it would lead to confusion and chaos.
Based on our years of experience with our customers, their feedback and our interaction with other software development teams, we have identified that following six practices that may not only help you in identifying the best software vendor for your project but also ensure the high level of transparency while attaining better turnaround time, lesser costs and achieve more with less.
1. Process Understanding
A rational perspective on project transparency first off demands a constructive attempt to understand the practices followed by the software development company to ensure complete transparency, measure effectiveness, and provide visibility into the development process.
In line, the first question that comes to mind is— how does the vendor approach the project management process that helps in identifying how transparent the operations will be, which eventually leads to the next question i.e. how that approach would benefit you in achieving your software development goals.
As such discussions do not happen during screening and selection process, a robust discovery session at the very beginning of the project is much needed, wherein the Project Manager and key stakeholders walk you through their practices to assure transparency and set the accountability for the project’s progress.
A good session will guide you towards critical questions, make you aware of the industry best practices, and enable you to assess the practices to increase accuracy. Things to analyze in discovery sessions are:
- Who Sees What: Not everyone in the team is required to see all the client information, as over-sharing information could threaten client confidentiality and may not also be productive or helpful for all the team members. The best practice could be to let everyone see the bigger picture to understand the larger goals of the project. Also, data of the project’s progress should be accessible by one and all to help bring transparency in the process.
- Who is Accountable for What: Analyze their team structure to see how the information flows from one team to another and who will tackle the project-level problems at different phases of the development. Knowing at the beginning who is accountable for what will help you to contact the go-to person for a particular problem.
- Reporting Mechanism: Neither project manager nor the upper management should be overwhelmed with information. It is essential to fix a mutually agreed reporting timetable and format, such as weekly, fortnightly, and monthly, each with different agenda, like current and backlog, so that different stakeholders from your side can access the project’s progress data to use it in their own formatted reports.
In the end, everything boils down to how efficiently project manager facilitates collaboration by providing a platform to every stakeholder for sharing relevant information and feedback.
2. Project Methodology and Micro Goals
While a robust discovery session boosts your overall confidence in the software development company, ensuring transparency during operations demands a more in-depth analysis of how the project manager implements the measures for transparency at ground level.
Usually, you select a project methodology depending upon your initial requirements, such as if the project has a fixed set of requirements then the fixed price model works for you or if the requirements are dynamic, you choose agile methodology.
Each methodology requires a unique set of measures to maintain software development outsourcing transparency, such as Agile methodology is more of communication focused—individuals and interactions are given more preference over processes and tools, whereas in waterfall method transparency is maintained through a strict reporting mechanism.
No matter what project methodology you have chosen for your software development project, you must ensure that micro goals for a sprint (time-boxed period, usually varying from 2-4 weeks, where the development team works to complete a set of task) are set in collaboration between you (product owner) and the software development team.
Here is how you can optimize transparency while software development outsourcing by ensuring sprint planning effectively:
- Conduct a timely “Sprint Planning Meeting” to decide on the sprint backlog and pick the next item to be worked on and ask the right questions to the team to verify their understanding of the concept.
- Set a common standard to keep every stakeholder on the same page for any given activity. For example, those performing the task and those inspecting the task must share the same definition for “task completed”.
- Practice regular tracking of the progress towards the sprint goal to identify the red flags, including any deviation from the actual plan. If any deviations beyond the accepted limit are found in such inspection, then the adjustments should be made to minimize the deviation.
Proper sprint planning and implementation not only bring the required transparency but also instil clear vision amongst the team members.
3. Forecast vs. Actual
Keeping a track of forecast and actual timeline and thus the expenditures for short-term operational considerations would indicate where your project is actually going. You can use the information to identify red flags and thus take corrective measures immediately to restore the initial project plan, focus on either fixing the issues or simply getting rid of the target or find an alternative for those tasks that may not be wise to attempt.
It is necessary that you value the data directly sourced from the software development team as it would give you a clear picture of the actual status of the project. Often the business side of the software development team does not give particular importance to the software developers at executive level, mostly because of the lack of interactions, and render to the assumptions.
The decision to proceed with such assumptions can create major hindrances at the later stage of the project, causing project failure or extreme budget overruns.
Including data directly sourced from the development team in your tracking mechanism introduces you to the existing reality of the project status thereby bringing the required transparency in the process.
4. Team Distribution
You must involve yourself in team distribution to achieve outsourcing transparency at the very beginning of the project. Getting involved in team distribution helps you in three ways:
- Provide you information about who is working on what
- Ability to plan the engagement hours of technical and non-technical teams
- Budgeting based on teams’ contribution. For example, reducing the engagement hours of resources that will be contributing less and taking them on a short term basis, as and when required.
Make sure that you have not been billed for what you have not used or that you do not have members in your project team who will contribute very less but are being charged full-time. However, it’s important to understand that every member in the technical and non-technical team has a significant value in the project, and you simply cannot ignore that value to cut cost. The idea of getting involved in the team distribution is to ensure judicious utilization of resources and transparent engagement.
5. Project Manager and Team Accountability
Having a clear notion of accountability within the project management is critical to ensure transparency in software development outsourcing projects. As a project owner, you can build accountability for project manager on:
- Setting clear expectations in meetings
- Defining the timeline for every task in the project
- Planning the schedule of individual and team
- Tracking critical milestones and keeping a record of planned vs. existing statuses
While having a discussion with the project manager, open up about your risks so that they can be aware of the consequences for you if the project faces any setback. Here is your quick to-do list on maintaining communication with the software development team in order to improve transparency.
- Set responsibility and accountability with the project manager: Project Manager must ensure that you get every detail of the plan and if any deviations occur in the middle of the project, they are accountable for it and it is their responsibility to bring the off-the-track project back on track.
- Participating in a project kick-off meeting: Make your expectations very clear in the meeting. You can oversee how project managers hold the team accountable for a particular task without micromanaging or browbeating.
- Get public commitments: It is necessary to determine in the meetings who is responsible for what and who is going to handle any unexpected issues. Getting public commitments brings a sense of responsibility among the team members to complete the task when they should be.
These are a few ways to ensure effective communication, which is also the key to software development outsourcing transparency.
6. Know What You are Paying For
How do you know you are paying for the right things?
Being sure that you have not been overcharged is one of the most difficult aspects of software development outsourcing. It requires visibility into the daily operations to verify details like hours worked and logged by technical and non-technical staff, deliverables, and milestones achieved in a timely fashion.
For example, if you are paying a fixed price, you have to ensure that major deliverables are being achieved in a specified timeframe. And if you are paying based on the Time and Material model, where you pay according to the resource utilized, you need to have figures related to actual work hours of developers.
To boost trust in the outsourcing relationship, it is essential that you have every detail available on-the-go, so that you are assured of the items you have been billed for.
As global locations for software development have become more viable, establishing transparency lines to foster trust and create an environment of control and inclusion at the beginning have become all the more necessary. Thankfully, project management processes have evolved and matured today and there are a lot of tools available that enable software development companies to maintain transparency and set clear vision of the project outcome across the organization. It is important for you, as a project owner, to utilize these resources and be meticulous in your planning and implementation to ensure project health and success.
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