8 Strategies for Business Owners to Effectively Manage Outsourced Programmers

Outsourcing can be a way to quickly find specialized programming expertise while controlling cost. But managing outsourced programmers can be challenging for business owners. Here's eight strategies to help ensure your project succeeds.

8 Strategies for Business Owners to Effectively Manage Outsourced Programmers
Photo by Arlington Research / Unsplash

Outsourcing can be a way to quickly find specialized programming expertise while controlling cost. But managing outsourced programmers can be challenging for business owners.

#1: Clearly Define Project Goals and Scope

Before hiring outside programmers, it's important to be clear about the project's goals and scope. Provide detailed documentation, including requirements, desired outcomes, and deadlines. This will make it easy for the programmers to understand what you want and give you good results.

As part of the process, there should be a clear Statement of Work (SOW). In this, you'll define precisely what the programmers will deliver, when, and how much money they'll be paid. This should also include milestones (see below).

You can write an SOW in any tool. Many people use something like Microsoft Word - or, even better - a cloud tool such as a Google Document. I personally recommend Notion because it includes built-in formatting and removes the need to manually format the document, which wastes time. Notion also includes lots of other tools together, such as Notion Databases which you can set up for project management.

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#2: Pick the Right People

Choose the right outsourced programming team for your project to make sure the project succeeds to accomplish your business goals. Do your homework: compare the technical skills, communication skills, and work samples of each team.

It's especially important to check their reputation and what past clients have said about them to make sure they are reliable and have a good track record. Ask for references. Don't merely rely on portfolio links (anyone can send you a link and claim they built it!)

You may need to invest some time in due diligence about the technology stack involved. A common pitfall is for a business owner to invest in a project with a team using an outdated or obscure technology stack. This may lead to project delays, will be more difficult to maintain, and leads to additional cost of ownership overtime.

Make sure the programmers are using the right Tech Stack!

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#3: Define Channels of Communication and Clear Expectations

Sometime called "Comms", the way communication will flow is a critical element to get right if you want to succeed. It's incredibly important to communicate well.

Establish the preferred ways to talk, such as email, video calls, or platforms for instant messaging such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. Make sure it's clear what should be communicated, and when. Is it daily? Weekly? Monthly?

There's a joke about programmers that goes:

How can you distinguish an extroverted programmer from an introverted programmer? Answer: The extroverted programmer stares at your shoes instead of their own shoes.

The point is this: programmers (as a generalization) don't love social interaction.

Programmers generally like to be coding (no duh?) Unsurprisingly, they may not be the best at pro-actively communication about the progress. This is where the Comms Plan comes in.

Set up a schedule for regular updates and progress reports, and be clear about when and how you want to be contacted. If you hire a project manager, this plan would fall under their responsibilities.

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#4: Set Milestones With Due Dates

You and the outsourced team will stay on track if you divide the project into smaller, more manageable steps with specific due dates for each step. This method lets you keep track of progress, deal with problems quickly, and make changes as needed without putting a big dent in the overall project timeline.

Divide and Conquer: Smaller Tasks Are Best

By breaking the project into smaller, more manageable tasks, you can keep track of its progress, assign resources, and keep the project's schedule under your control. This method not only lets you keep track of how the project is going as a whole, but also makes sure that the team you hired to do the work is working well and efficiently.

Keep it Realistic

When making milestones, it's important to be realistic and take into account both the difficulty of each task and the skills of the programmers who will be doing the work. Set aside enough time for each milestone, taking into account things like testing, fixing bugs, and making changes. It is also helpful to set up a buffer in case any problems come up during the development process that weren't planned.

To effectively set milestones, you should first list the project's key deliverables and break them down into smaller tasks. Set a date for each milestone, making sure that the dates are both attainable and in line with the overall timeline of the project. Tell the outsourced programmers about these milestones and due dates in a clear way and make sure they understand the expectations and priorities.

Use a Project Management Tool

Use project management tools and software to track progress, keep track of when tasks are done, and keep the outsourced team in the loop. This lets you find any potential problems or delays quickly so you can fix them right away.

Try to avoid scattering communication and tasks across multiple tools. The more time programmers need to spend updating their tasks or hunting for information, the less time (and money!) is spent writing code to complete your project.

No project management tool is perfect. Every tool has its own strengths and weaknesses. The important thing is to select a tool and ensure the team actively uses it. Spend time learning the tool and training the team to use it.

Be Flexible

"No plan survives first contact with the enemy"
– Hemuth von Moltke, Military Strategist (c) 1880
"Everybody has a plan till they get punched in the mouth."
– Mike Tyson, Heavyweight Champion Boxer

Lastly, don't forget to be flexible and ready to make changes as the project goes on. Be ready to go back to milestones and due dates and change them if you need to, taking into account any changes in requirements or surprises. By staying flexible, you can make sure that your project keeps moving forward smoothly, even if you run into problems you didn't expect.

Hover–flexibility shouldn't mean lack of accountability. Programmers need to be empowered to provide honest and realistic estimates. But if the team keeps missing milestones over and over, you may need tro fire them.

#5: Give Feedback on Time

As a business owner, you need to give feedback to the programmers you hire outside of your company. When you give feedback on time, problems can be found and fixed early on, making sure that the final product meets your expectations. Timing is very important for the success of a software development project, and not giving feedback on time can lead to a number of bad outcomes:

Wrong Working Assumptions Wastes Time and Money

When feedback isn't given on time, developers may keep working on tasks based on wrong assumptions or incomplete information. This delays the project timeline. This can lead to rework, which makes the project take longer to finish and makes it harder to meet deadlines.

Increased Costs

If feedback isn't given on time, developers may have to redo tasks or fix problems that could have been avoided if feedback had been given on time. This makes development costs go up, which could affect the project budget.

Low Quality Output

Feedback that comes too late can slow down the development of high-quality software because problems or deviations from requirements may not be found and fixed quickly. This can lead to a final product that doesn't meet the client's needs or has mistakes, which hurts user satisfaction and the project's overall success.

Poor Team Morale

If team members don't get feedback when they need it, they may feel like their efforts aren't being recognized or guided well. This can make them angry and less motivated. This can hurt the morale of the team, making them less productive and possibly changing the outcome of the project.

Inefficient Workflow

Delays in feedback can mess up the flow of a software development project because team members may have to stop what they're doing to wait for feedback or switch their attention to work on tasks they've already finished. This can lead to inefficiency, which can slow down the project and hurt its progress.

Loss of Confidence from Stakeholders

If feedback isn't given in a timely manner, stakeholders may lose faith in the project's management because they may see it as a lack of organization, commitment, or communication. This can cause problems with clients, investors, or other people who have a stake in the project. This can hurt the project's reputation and success as a whole.

To prevent these bad things from happening, it is important to set up a feedback process that makes sure developers get timely and helpful feedback throughout the software development project. This will help keep the project on schedule, keep costs down, make sure the work is of high quality, and keep team morale and stakeholder confidence high.

#6: Foster a Collaborative Environment

Collaboration is important – not only to ensure the project runs smoothly, but also to allow the team come up with new ideas, and solve problems quickly.

Knowledge Sharing

Encourage your in-house team and the programmers you hired to work together. Share important information, documents, and resources to help both teams understand what their roles and responsibilities are and how they fit in with the other team. A good project management or documentation management tool can help with this, like Notion.

Communication Channels

As noted above, make sure you have a Comms Plan. Encourage openness and for team members to talk openly about their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. Make sure that everyone is kept up to date on the project's goals, progress, and new information.

Respect and Trust

Promoting a culture of mutual respect and trust is another important part of getting people to work together. Encourage team members to recognize and value each other's skills, expertise, and contributions. Make it possible for team members to learn from each other and give each other constructive feedback. This can lead to continuous improvement and new ideas. By making sure everyone feels welcome and supported, you can encourage team members to take responsibility for their work and work better together.

Shared Goals and Outcomes

Lastly, stress the importance of working as a team and having the same goals. Make sure that each team member knows what their job is and how their work fits into the project as a whole. Set goals for the group as a whole and praise the group's successes to get people to work together. By emphasizing the importance of working as a team and fostering a sense of unity, you can create an environment where people are motivated to work together and do their best.

#7: Track Progress and Hold People Accountable

Tracking progress and holding people accountable in a software development project is crucial for ensuring the project stays on schedule and meets the desired quality standards.

Define Roles and Responsibilities

At the start of the project, make it clear what each team member's roles and responsibilities are. This makes it easy to hold people accountable for their work because everyone knows what they need to do and what is expected of them.

Regular Check-Ins

Hold regular progress meetings or "stand-ups" with the team to talk about the status of tasks, what has been done, and any problems that have come up. This keeps team members interested in their work and makes them responsible for it. It also gives them a chance to talk about any problems or roadblocks. Check the project's progress on a regular basis to make sure that milestones and deadlines are being met.

Encourage Openness

Create a space where team members can talk about their work, share updates, and ask for help when they need it. This makes people feel like they are all responsible for the project's success, which is good for accountability.

Give Feedback and Praise

Give team members regular, constructive feedback on their performance, pointing out both things they could do better and things they did well. Recognizing what people have done well can keep them accountable and interested in their work.

Set up a Clear Escalation Path

Set up a clear escalation path for dealing with problems or concerns about performance. This lets team members bring up problems quickly, making sure that any problems are solved quickly and keeping people accountable.

Hold People Accountable

Hold outsourced programmers responsible for their work and act quickly to deal with any problems or delays. Be prepared to fire programmers or an outsourced firm if they are not working out. If it comes to it, fire first – don't delay. The longer you keep a non-performing outsourced firm, the more money you'll waste and the more difficult it will be to sever ties with them.

#8: Change and Adapt As Needed

As with any project, you may face problems or changes in requirements that you didn't expect. Be ready to change how you do things and work closely with the programmers you hired to find solutions. Being flexible will help your project keep going even if you run into problems you didn't expect.

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For outsourced programmers to be managed well, there must be clear communication, clear expectations, collaboration, and accountability. By using these tips, business owners can make sure their projects go smoothly, which leads to good work and a good relationship with the people they hire.

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