Outsource It! — The good, bad, and ugly of offshoring tech projects – #bookreview

Outsource It!
A No-Holds-Barred Look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Offshoring Tech Projects
Nick Krym
(Pragmatic Bookshelf – paperback)

Like it or not, outsourcing tech projects is here to stay. It’s also there to stay, and everywhere else to stay.

There is no clear way that outsourcing will shrivel up and die within the interconnected and increasingly interdependent world economy.

So, perhaps it’s time to stop griping, resisting, and mouthing political slogans–and focus, instead, on finding ways to make the best of offshoring. There are ways to profit from its advantages. And there are ways to minimize the risks from its quirks, management challenges, traps and disadvantages.

Actually, some “offshoring” is “nearshoring.” To help keep development costs down, big corporations in North America sometimes farm out tech work to smaller companies and individual freelancers located in less-expensive areas of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

“Inshoring” happens, too. U.S. firms move some of their overseas tech operations back to the States, and foreign companies establish some tech outsource operations in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Their outsourcing is our insourcing.

Outsourcing veteran Nick Krym calls his new book Outsource It! “a down-to-earth guide to offshore outsourcing.” It is aimed, he says, at “technology professionals…working in small- to medium-sized companies or in the technology trenches of large organizations.”

Outsource It! is well-written and packed with good information and how-to steps, plus insights drawn from Krym’s experiences and the experiences of many others in real-world offshoring. His 25 years in the IT industry include 20 years working in offshore outsourcing.

If you work in outsource situations, or if you are helping manage or set up an outsource team, you can glean good information and how-to ideas from Krym’s pages. And, you likely will want to keep the book handy in your reference collection, because he covers many “soft skills that need to be reinforced continuously until they become second nature.”

The 244-page book is divided into five main parts:

  1. Decide If, What, and How to Outsource
  2. Find the Right Vendors
  3. Negotiate Solid Contracts
  4. Lead Distributed Engagements
  5. Keep Risks Under Control

Three appendices take you inside the positives and negatives of outsourcing to India, China, Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, Ireland, Israel, South America, Central America, Mexico, Canada, and the rural United States.

Other appendices offer: an “Outsourcing Readiness Assessment Checklist”; a summary of “Vendor Search Criteria”; an “Outsourcing Checklist”; and an “Offshore Vendor Technical Assessment” process.

As someone who previously worked in multinational software development, on projects involving teams in the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, Sweden and China, I found myself particularly agreeing with Krym’s assessments of software outsourcing.

“Many companies think that QA—software testing—is a logical function to outsource,” he reports. He offers several reasons why this not always “the most prudent approach” and describes what it takes to make offshore QA work.

For example: “The first rule of setting up a productive offshore team,” he stresses,” is to use QA professionals rather than software developer rejects or English major graduates.”

It is likewise vital to find “a solid QA lead—someone who is sufficiently technical, understands the process and requirements, and can manage the team.”

Krym further emphasizes that “[t]he cost difference between local and outsourced QA engineers is not always as dramatic as it is for developers.”

And: “Poor QA management can generate huge amounts of useless work, producing hard-to-manage artifacts and creating unhealthy team dynamics.”

Nick Krym’s new book is an excellent guide to the ins, outs and complex gray areas of outsourcing technology projects. And it’s not just for managers and executives. Employees, freelancers, and leaders of start-ups also can find ways to benefit and profit from the knowledge and experience Outsource It! offers.

Si Dunn