Why not offshore my app development project?

April 17th, 2017 by Heather Maloney

onshore your app developmentOkay, you’re going to think I’m bias – I own a web & mobile app development company based in Melbourne, Australia, so of course I want to discourage organisations from offshoring the development of their apps.

However, fact of the matter is that I’ve heard countless war stories of offshored developments that have gone wrong … either the whole development has been thrown in the bin due to a poor quality result, or a project that was meant to be delivered by a particular date for a specific cost has escalated in both time and cost. My organisation has been the beneficiary of such malfunctioning projects, but not before the organisation has been through months of pain and disappointment prior to arriving at my door.

Apart from the issues of getting what you actually want, in an appropriate time, and for the low cost you expect from offshoring, there’s a third concern – security of your intellectual property. How do you really know that your solution isn’t being re-used for other foreign organisations to achieve the same or similar outcomes in their local market or the global market? If you needed to pursue a competitor for theft of your IP, doing that in a foreign country is going to be exponentially more difficult than locally. The risk of reputational damage to a local provider also provides you with additional leverage if an issue arises.

So why do off-shored projects so often go wrong? Anecdotally it would seem that the following issues are the primary reasons:

  1. Communication – first and foremost, effectively communicating your requirements is best done with the person/s carrying out, or at least overseeing, the development in the same room. Offshore developers try to overcome this with business analysts in Australia preparing vast documents on the required solution, adding time and cost to the project. Because the analysts are primarily in Australia, passing on of the information usually relies on the developers reading the vast amount of output and then following it … again inefficient, and developers aren’t known for wanting to read long documents before they start coding.
    Offshore developments usually require additional management in order to manage the offshore teams and co-ordinate communication, reducing the benefit of the lower developer hourly rates.
    Agile methodologies require close proximity of the developers and the clients to be successful.
  2. Time Zone – the effect of working in different time zones almost always adds to the project timeline. Someone has to wait until the start or the end of the day to communicate with the team, and when one team is working, the other isn’t, making asking a quick question in order to keep progressing down the right path either very difficult, or adverse for the work-life balance of team members.
  3. Cultural Differences – written English is heavily subject to interpretation. Cultural differences can increase the likelihood of incorrect interpretation. Trying to achieve a solution that feels like it was built for the Australian marketplace is also less likely from an offshore team, which is why design (UI & creative) is rarely carried out offshore.

From time to time I am asked to manage an offshore team in order for a client to get the benefit of lower cost developers. I always politely decline. We are able to develop great solutions, in a timely and cost effective manner because we have our developers in the same room, can have efficient discussions and decision-making about the developments if a difficulty arises, and because our clients are also close to the developers when the need arises. We also bring to our clients many years of experience, industry knowledge and of course cultural understanding.

There are times when you can’t get the resources you need, when you need them, locally such that offshore is the best option. But perhaps you should instead consider breaking down your development to smaller chunks so that a smaller, local team can meet your requirements. Smaller developments of shorter durations are also more likely to be successful, cost effective and deliver value to your customers and organisation more rapidly.

If you require a web or mobile application to be developed, I’d love to discuss the potential opportunity with you, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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