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We get it. Software development is expensive.

If you have a big problem to solve on a small budget, outsourcing the work to an offshore development firm can seem like a compelling solution.

These firms leverage their region’s relatively low cost of living to offer product development services at an appealing rate.

But the low price can come with a high opportunity cost. Many of these firms are programming mills. There’s no other way to describe it. They commoditize their development team, treating them as fungible assets instead of talented individuals who could bring real results to clients.

Chasing a development unicorn

There’s a misconception in some software development circles that if you double the number of engineers on a project, you’ll be able to get through twice as many tickets.

But, let’s be real. That’s not how human collaboration works.

To be successful, software development projects require a team of individuals with varied expertise who can work together to grasp the full context of the problem.

When companies hire on cost alone, often turning to offshore commodity groups, they can end up in a situation that only multiplies their real problems: lack of internal expertise, lack of clarity and poor communication between the appropriate problem-solvers.

Throw in some time zone conflicts and language barriers, and you may end up in a situation that’s even worse than where you started.

We haven’t met many companies with problems that could be easily solved by offshore commodity firms. It’s a unicorn that many people chase — but never catch. If you’re still on the fence, here are three factors to consider to help you decide if offshoring is right for you. As always, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help you make the best decision for your unique situation.

Consider the high cost of cheap, low-context solutions

The biggest allure of working with offshore commodity groups is the promise of what appears to be a bargain solution to your problem.

But in software, it can cost you a lot to save a little.

With commodity outsourcing, the goal is often to find a firm that needs only the minimum amount of context to get started. They can dive in and get to work knowing only scant details about the client’s goals and end-users.

To achieve this, many low-cost development firms offer packages in which they follow a set process to achieve a predetermined outcome. These processes can seem especially appealing to clients who aren’t familiar with software development.

But here’s the thing. Software projects rarely follow a set course. Needs change, requirements evolve. Having a team that works iteratively so they can pivot as needed is critical to a project’s success.

Appraise the experience level of your tech leadership

Whenever you outsource — whether to a programming mill or an experienced consultant — it requires work on your team’s part. Someone has to onboard the external staff, manage day-to-day communications and oversee the work to ensure it’s executed properly.

Working with offshore teams is even more specialized. It requires a hefty amount of internal management overhead.

We only recommend working with offshore groups if you have an experienced tech leader on your team. Ideally, someone who has led multiple successful projects and understands the nuances of working with commodity development firms.

Without that experienced internal tech leadership, the project is at risk of errors. Depending on the offshore firm’s experience, they might make design or technical mistakes that won’t be an issue until the product needs to scale or new requirements are discovered.

We’ve worked with multiple clients who came to us after unsuccessful partnerships with offshore commodity firms. When all was said and done, the clients ended up paying twice as much as they would have had they hired us first.

The next time you’re considering working with an offshore firm, ask yourself: Can we afford to spend $50K to build this wrong — and then $100K more to get it right?

Don’t underestimate the value of your production team

Many of the problems we’ve outlined above aren’t due to the skill or talent of the individual developers working at these firms. Instead, the very nature of the working agreement is flawed.

Commodity offshore groups typically don’t leverage the full value of their production teams. Engineers and developers are not encouraged to look at your problem, provide feedback and question the fundamentals of what they’re building and how it should work.

It’s a real shame. Because if you allow them, your production team can bring some amazing insights to the table, saving you time and money in the long run.

At Cloud City, each of our product, design and development folks have anywhere from 10 to 20 years of experience. We work closely with clients to understand their goals and challenges.

Before a project even begins, our mission is to ask smart questions, check a client’s assumptions, and help them understand the complexities and trade-offs so they can make the best decisions.

Many times, a client will have organizational problems that masquerade as technical or staffing issues. Since we’ve worked on different variations of similar problems, we can help identify the root cause of a client’s issues and offer new perspectives on how to fix them. The best of both worlds?

Our team has also worked in parallel with offshore groups on roughly a quarter of our projects to date. We leverage our team’s experience to understand the client’s needs and goals. Our senior engineers then serve as technical mentors, developing clear, well-defined coding tasks for the offshore group to follow while we focus on the more challenging aspects of the project. How to know which approach is right for your project

If you’re debating whether to work with an offshore commodity group, we’re more than happy to talk about your project and give you honest, no-strings-attached feedback on why the arrangement may or may not be the best fit.

We can also help set you up to make sure you’re asking the right questions. What skills do you need? What processes will work for your team? How can you ensure you get the results you want?

If you have clearly defined, well-scoped tasks and an experienced tech leader on board, then you may be able to reap the cost-saving benefits of working with an offshore commodity group.

If not, we can help point you in the right direction so the project is a success — the first time around.

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