The Challenges of Developing your Software Offshore

So, your com­pany has com­mis­sioned a com­pre­hen­sive, in­te­grated soft­ware so­lu­tion on the cloud. You don’t have in­ter­nal de­vel­op­ers of your own, and so you have out­sourced the de­vel­op­ment of your soft­ware to an off­shore de­vel­oper. For the sake of il­lus­tra­tion, let’s say you’ve out­sourced to India. You ini­tially se­lected India be­cause off­shore com­pa­nies in India were cheaper than lo­cal op­tions. Over time, how­ever, you have no­ticed the chal­lenges of de­vel­op­ing your soft­ware off­shore, such as time zones and long-dis­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Picture an or­di­nary work­ing day, with morn­ing meet­ings, lunch around mid­day, etc.. It’s morn­ing and you need to speak with your de­vel­op­ers, prob­lem is, 9am in Brisbane is 4.30am in India! If you and your Indian de­vel­op­er’s busi­ness hours are 9am-5pm, then it’s only be­tween 1.30pm-5pm (your time) your trad­ing hours over­lap. Furthermore, your lunch pe­ri­ods are un­aligned. These dif­fer­ences com­pound to make com­mu­ni­ca­tion more dif­fi­cult be­tween you and your de­vel­oper. For starters, you have less over­all time dur­ing which your trad­ing hours over­lap. The sit­u­a­tion is only worse for Sydney and Melbourne, which are ahead of Brisbane dur­ing Summer be­cause of day­light sav­ing time.

The real is­sue, how­ever, is long-dis­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tion. As far as tech­nol­ogy has come, noth­ing can re­place face-to-face con­ver­sa­tions. Video con­fer­ences, phone calls, and even emails serve a vi­tal pur­pose, but none of these can re­place face-to-face when that’s what’s needed. Of course, rep­re­sen­ta­tives can fly in­ter­na­tional, but this is slow and ex­pen­sive. Sometimes the costs of in­ter­na­tional travel and/​or re­liance on less vivid medi­ums of com­mu­ni­ca­tion are re­couped by the lower labour rates over­seas; how­ever, these is­sues are ex­ac­er­bated by lan­guage bar­ri­ers.

Perhaps the de­vel­op­er’s spokesper­son will speak English at a na­tive level, but will all of the pro­gram­mers and de­sign­ers? Times zones and long-dis­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tion ex­ac­er­bate lan­guage bar­ri­ers be­cause more pres­sure is placed on in­ter­me­di­aries com­mu­ni­cat­ing for less time across less vivid medi­ums.

Agile Software Development

These is­sues col­late around a cen­tral is­sue: de­vel­op­men­tal process. Historically, many busi­nesses, in­clud­ing soft­ware de­vel­op­ers, have adopted a wa­ter­fall model of busi­ness. In this model the flow of de­ci­sions and ideas is one way (top to bot­tom). Since the 1980s, how­ever, more and more com­pa­nies have be­gun adopt­ing more ag­ile and lean busi­ness or­gan­i­sa­tion philoso­phies.


Scrum is a pop­u­lar method­ol­ogy of Agile-Lean. In Scrum, the flow of de­ci­sions and ideas is much more vari­able: de­vel­op­ers speak with clients, pro­gram­mers speak with de­sign­ers, etc.. I.e. agility and adapt­abil­ity is pri­ori­tised over cen­tral­i­sa­tion and tra­di­tion. This style of work­place or­gan­i­sa­tion is in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar, as non-it­er­a­tive meth­ods of soft­ware de­vel­op­ment are sus­cep­ti­ble to cost blowouts and missed dead­lines as well as be­ing less ca­pa­ble of in­no­va­tion.

WorkingMouse is a proud ag­ile soft­ware de­vel­op­ment com­pany and be­liever in the prin­ci­ples of the lean startup and it­er­a­tive processes. We di­vide pro­jects into a se­ries of sprints, and ap­ply lessons learned dur­ing ear­lier sprints in later ones. We also be­lieve in the use­ful­ness of Minimum Viable Products, thor­ough soft­ware test­ing, and early and fre­quent com­mu­ni­ca­tion with clients and end-users. None of these are im­pos­si­ble when en­gaged in off­shore out­sourc­ing, how­ever, these prac­tices, and the Agile-Lean rev­o­lu­tion, are hin­dered by any and all com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­ri­ers.

When To Offshore? When To Go Local? No One Size Fits All

There are a num­ber of chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with an off­shore soft­ware de­vel­op­ment com­pany, such as time zones and long-dis­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tion. These is­sues are com­pounded by lan­guage bar­ri­ers, and all three of these is­sues are fur­ther com­pounded by or­gan­i­sa­tional meth­ods. This is be­cause in­no­v­a­tive busi­nesses are in­creas­ingly see­ing the ad­van­tages of ag­ile and lean philoso­phies, which are cen­tered around prin­ci­ples of agility and adapt­abil­ity, which can be ham­strung by the chal­lenges of off­shoring soft­ware de­vel­op­ment.

Software de­vel­op­ment is not one size fits all. Sometimes one way of do­ing things is sub­op­ti­mal, and oth­ers times it’s op­ti­mal. Offshorning has its ad­van­tages. However, like all busi­nesses de­ci­sions, as there are po­ten­tial up­sides, there are po­ten­tial down­sides as well.

If you want to read more on the hid­den costs of soft­ware out­sourc­ing, check out Eban’s ar­ti­cle, wherein he does a break­down of what is in­volved with off­shore soft­ware de­vel­op­ment.


David Burkett

Growth en­thu­si­ast and res­i­dent pom

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