An Offshore Software Development Horror Story
It should come as no surprise to you guys that Upstackers are also professional Reddit lurkers.
We came across this thread and just had to talk about it.
We think it’s a great reminder to founders out there to do your due diligence when outsourcing software projects overseas.
Disclaimer: Upstack Studio is not affiliated in any way with the parties in this story. Whether real or fictional, we think it represents a real-world situation often faced by inexperienced founders. and any commentary is meant to be educational, not to condemn.
That said, check this out:
We guess this means no more outsourcing overseas right?
Let’s see what we can learn from this.
Offshore Software Development is Normal
Outsourcing software development to offshore teams is an industry norm.
At the same time, this practice also gets a bad rep. Say ‘offshore team’ and many people think “low quality” and “difficult to work with”.
Is this reputation deserved?
We don’t think so.
There are many successful offshore projects. In fact, most are.
Sure, there’s no denying that it carries added risk.
The reward is you can get your product at a fraction of the cost of hiring locally.
For a startup, offshoring could be the only way you get a decent working prototype.
The risk is clear: choose the wrong team and all that money you wanted to save?
You’re gonna lose it, and more.
Case in point, u/apache_spork’s experience here on the sysadmin subreddit.
We feel really sorry for their team, but man, everything their management did was a textbook case of what NOT to do when hiring overseas teams.
It’s quite tragic, but our team couldn’t help but laugh at some of the stuff he shared. So let’s go over his story and we’ll just add our thoughts as and when necessary.
By the end, you’ll see that stories like this are completely avoidable. Hiring an offshore team is a really viable option if you approach it with the right mindset!
The 5 Reasons Offshore Software Development Projects Fail
Before we start dissecting the thread, we just want to cover the reasons offshore software projects fail:
- Poor communication
- Low-quality developers, which leads to
- Low-quality code
- Unsuitable team size for the project, and
- Time zone & schedule conflicts
Whatever this poor system administrator is going to complain about, you’ll find that it can always be tied back to these five factors.
The lesson: if you take steps to make sure these concerns are addressed before and during development, there is no reason why your project won’t succeed.
Alright? Let’s get to the juicy parts.
It Started Out So Promising…
Nothing wrong with that. The company is in a growth phase, so freelancers are more scalable than getting permanent staff.
But look at the next highlighted part. You already know it’s not gonna end well.
Please understand that the fact that the offshore team was from India has NOTHING to do with the issue here.
There are good teams in India. There are bad teams in India. It’s the same in any country.
And the way the management hired developers, they would have gotten a crap team no matter where they looked.
Yes, you outsource overseas to cut costs.
But what you’re really doing is trying to get high quality work at the lowest possible price. If the quality isn’t there, it’s not even worth considering.
But that doesn’t seem to be what apache’s management did. For them, it wasn’t a matter of cutting costs, it was about cutting corners.
We could just tell you guys don’t do this and end the post.
But let’s keep going cause it gets worse.
Realizing The Offshore Development Team Was Not Good
We see right from the start that because they hired purely based on price, they immediately ran into quality issues.
Oh man, the offshore team was treating it like an internship!
But it tells you that they were probably being underpaid even by their cost of living standards. The moment they knew they could get a fairer wage, they left.
You know what, it’s unprofessional, but so is underpaying people.
And if we keep scrolling, we start to see issues with the work.
Well, they say multi-cloud is better than single-cloud right? Not always.
One thing we want to point out is that our friend apache here clearly has a technical background. He knew what the offshore developers were doing wrong and he could give advice.
It’s just they either didn’t understand or outright ignored it.
We can’t imagine how you’d deal with this as a non tech founder.
Where do you even start when the people you’re relying on don’t have the right technical knowledge?
We hope that doesn’t scare you away from going offshore, but we do hope it scares you into doing your due diligence.
Let’s get to the part about poor communication:
This part SCREAMS poor internal communications. What do we mean by that?
There must have been at least one project manager from their side who would deal with apache’s team directly.
Whoever they were, they must have known this was an international client based in a different timezone.
But somehow that information wasn’t cascaded down to the actual developers. It’s not that surprising if you remember that they were facing staff turnover issues, so there were probably lots of new hires just shoved into work without any briefing.
And India is a big country, so their team might have been really geographically dispersed.
It can definitely become a bottleneck.
And if we look just a bit further down, we see another communication issue that confirms the agency was bleeding talent.
Their staff were probably leaving faster than they could hire replacements, and they had to hide what was going on because if the client knew an agency didn’t have the manpower, they might terminate the contract.
But honestly, anyone with a basic technical background will be able to tell what’s going on.
And hey, look at this
Ok, we get that apache is being sarcastic, but it still kind of hurts to see Agile used next to this.
If it takes you weeks to write a line of code, you’re barely even a developer.
Management should never have hired this agency.
But fine, hiring mistakes happen. Why were they not fired after one month?
This is probably the saddest part for us:
Ok, we can all agree that apache’s management messed up big time. The offshore developers were not the best, to put it kindly.
We hope we don’t sound too harsh here, but when you knowingly release bad quality work to your clients and customers, apache’s team became just like the nightmare offshore team, but to their own direct clients.
We don’t want to condemn anyone here, not even the ‘offshore agile’ team.
Basically what we see here is how decisions made with the wrong priorities can put everyone in a bad spot.
We mentioned at the start that with software development, you get what you pay for.
From the looks of things, Apache’s company tried to pay next to nothing, and that’s pretty much what they got.
This story happened four years ago and we sincerely hope Apache’s gone on to have a great career.
Meanwhile, for the rest of us,
Lessons For Founders Considering Offshore Project Development
Nothing wrong with outsourcing overseas, but vet your choices carefully.
Number 1, nothing should ever compromise quality.
Number 2, ask to meet your developers to see if there might be communication or timezone barriers
Number 3, when you meet them, ask them questions about their agency and work processes. We’ve got a cheat sheet we’ve put together for you to easily send out.
It’s got all the relevant questions to help you evaluate a developer’s credibility. Link in description.
Number 4, whatever they say at the start, make sure they stay consistent throughout the project and don’t be afraid to remind them of what they promised
And if you do those things, you’ll probably never need to vent your frustration on a subreddit like poor Apache.
And you know, if you’re in the market for an offshore agency right now, we’ve got a pretty good app development team based in Malaysia. We’ve been building apps and sites for the past 5 years, and we’ve made a few people very happy in that time.
Here’s a link to grab a virtual cup of coffee with us if you want to discuss an idea you have.
Cmon, the Ringgit is weakening. Take advantage of your strong exchange rate. Exploit us, Mr Franklin.