How to Communicate with Your Outsourcing Partner Effectively: Best Communication Practices and Tools
Outsourcing has become a standard strategy for building software products while simultaneously saving costs and accessing talented specialists. However, this approach comes with its own challenges, one of which is communication. Learn how to communicate effectively with your outsourcing partner in this article
Apart from obvious factors like professionalism and development skills, communication is one of the most important aspects of successful software development outsourcing.
Depending on a project’s size and complexity, there may be a different set of stakeholders involved, from product owners, business owners, and managers of different types (marketing managers, project managers) to team leads and business analysts. All of them should be on the same page to avoid misleading instructions, outdated information, and overhead.
However, even a single entrepreneur who needs a team to build a website still needs sufficient communication for the project to go smoothly. In this article, you’ll find out who is responsible for communication when working with an outsourced development team and what tools and strategies you can use to manage communication when outsourcing and make sure you get exactly what you expect at the end of the development process.
Challenges in communicating with your outsourcing partner
When working with a software outsourcing company, communication challenges are bound to occur. Even people who work in the same office sometimes encounter communication problems. But when you’re working with a company from another country, the chance of communication challenges is higher.
So what are the potential communication problems when outsourcing?
Though the whole world was forced to go remote in 2020 and 2021, distance between outsourcing teams and their clients existed long before the pandemic.
Distance makes communication a little less personal, and it’s always better to discuss business face to face than via email or even video chats.
However, outsourcers are used to working this way and have lots of experience communicating remotely. Additionally, some companies (Mobindustry included) used to take business trips before the pandemic to talk with clients in person and discuss major aspects of a project for better understanding and collaboration.
Time zone differences
Time zone differences can also cause outsourcing communication issues. When communicating across time zones, someone needs to make sacrifices, such as joining the call late in the evening or early in the morning. In accommodating each other’s needs and schedules, it can sometimes be challenging to make an appointment, especially if a call has to happen immediately.
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Approaches to collaboration, work ethics, and habits differ across cultures. You especially feel this when you work with people from different countries. It’s important to choose an outsourcing partner who aligns with your values.
Your outsourcing partner may be used to different communication tools than you typically use. However, this is not highly likely in the world of IT. Software development companies in countries where outsourcing is common are usually targeted towards Western markets, so they use communication and project management tools such as Jira, Slack, and Skype.
There are many things that can potentially go wrong in a project because of communication breakdowns, from missed deadlines to software that doesn’t meet business needs.
While you as a client want to get a high-quality product on time and within your budget, your outsourcing partner wants to develop something useful and get a loyal partner and a great project in their portfolio, so your product’s success is something that both parties are interested in.
6 tips for better communication with your outsourcing partne
Treat your outsourcing company as your partner
The best approach to remote collaboration is mutual respect and partnership. When you partner with a software development company, you don’t just hire workers — you also get access to years of experience, industry knowledge, and both business and technical expertise. Your software development company has probably worked on dozens of projects from different domains, and their unique experience can make your product great.
The best approach to remote collaboration is mutual respect and partnership
This doesn’t mean you should accept everything your software development partner says at face value. But considering their recommendations will definitely help your software solve business problems.
Also, don’t forget about personal communication. Small talk will make your communication more pleasant and make the work go smoother.
Identify preferred communication methods early
When shortlisting potential software development companies, make sure their communication methods align with yours. Ask questions about how communication usually goes in a given company and what tools they use.
Though your partner should be flexible in communicating and take your needs into consideration, it’s always good when they have a tested and proven communication algorithm in place. This is especially important if it’s your first time outsourcing software development.
Establish the frequency of communication
Lack of communication is as bad as overdoing it. While a lack of communication can lead to misalignment of results and expectations, overdoing meetings and calls can demotivate the team and mess with the project timeline. Finding a balance in the frequency of communication is crucial.
Before signing a contract, ask how often project managers will send reports and hold meetings and calls. Make sure to suggest changes to communication habits if needed, but take your team’s own experience into account, as the team has completed lots of projects and probably already has a communication strategy.
Keep the team motivated
Team management is the responsibility of project managers, and usually an outsourcing partner will provide you with a project manager. However, team motivation is something you can and should contribute to.
To keep your development team motivated, share your plans with them. Talk about how certain features will translate into business success, and share results like user statistics and positive reviews.
Another way to keep your team motivated is by giving them flexibility in how they solve certain problems. Nothing can discourage a developer more than ineffective and outdated solutions when there are better options available.
Don’t forget to tell developers when you’re satisfied with the results of their work. Feedback is extremely important, especially when you’re collaborating remotely.
Consider cultural differences
When clients choose their outsourcing partners, they usually care about the language. Surely, speaking the same language is important in communicating, and your outsourcing partner should have a good command of the language of business so you can discuss everything in emails, chats, meetings, and calls.
However, cultural differences are also important to consider. While they may not seem as important and you may be used to working in international teams, cultural differences can sometimes cause issues.
Before signing a contract with your outsourcing partner, make sure you have a clear understanding of their communication habits, behaviors, traditions, and customs. If any misunderstandings arise, don’t think right away that your partners aren’t considerate of your needs — it’s possible they interpret the situation differently from you.
Take planning seriously
Communication isn’t only about exchanging emails, holding daily meetings or calls, and reading reports. Without a proper outsourcing communication plan, all of these activities may become excessive: you’ll need to arrange some kind of communication each time you have questions about literally any part of the project. Thus, you’ll spend more time discussing rather than developing, and gathering each detail from all emails, calls, and reports is a tedious task.
Planning and documentation is the primary tool for communication between the client and the development team. The process of defining your business needs and creating documentation around them is called a discovery plase. It allows all stakeholders to be on the same page about nearly every part of the project, from functionality and the tech stack to the responsibilities of each team member and the UX design.
So don’t skip the discovery phase of a project and make sure to rely on your business analyst’s expertise. Good technical documentation can free your time and mind and answer questions for the whole team, leaving space for making business-related decisions.
Use communication tools properly
There are many communication channels used for remote collaboration on software development projects, and all of them can be divided into four major categories. Your goal is to use each communication channel for specific tasks and not to mix them up.
It’s easy to make email correspondence confusing, especially if one person is responsible for multiple email addresses. Make sure everyone on your team has one email that the outsourcing partner can use for sending reports. Also, you should keep conversations under separate threads, this will make it easier to manage outsourcing partners and your communication.
Use a common calendar for planning calls, meetings, reviews, demonstrations, and retrospectives. Events should have notifications, and the frequency of certain activities should be clear from the start. Make sure to email your partner about any changes in plans along with sending calendar notifications.
- Document repository
Organize all of your documentation in a shared repository with different access levels and a powerful search engine that will help you find documents quickly. Your outsourcing partner should be able to quickly access any existing project documents.
- Project management tools
There are lots of tools for task and project management like Teamwork, Monday, and Trello. They help you track project progress, assign tasks to developers and other specialists, and organize the development flow.
It’s a good idea to pair your project management tool with other tools like a document repository in order to link documents to tasks.
Your project management tool should also allow the team to log the time spent on tasks so that your invoice from your outsourcing partner only includes the hours spent on your project. A logging tool will also help with planning sprints and managing the backlog.
- Text and video chats
To quickly solve issues and hold meetings and calls, you need text chats and video conferencing tools. Choose a text chat tool that will allow you to separate your conversations into threads so you don’t lose important information.
Video conferencing tools have become exceptionally popular during the pandemic, so you have a wide range of products to choose from.
Top communication tools for software development outsourcing
There are no right communication tools for outsourcing, and you should choose whatever tools work for you specifically. I can only speak from my experience and share what we use at Mobindustry to organize effective communication.
Atlassian and Jira
Jira is an issue tracking tool that allows project managers to organize the development flow, assign tasks, track progress, and extract reports on the time spent on certain tasks. As a client, you can add your development team to your own Jira account and track how your project is progressing.
At Mobindustry, we care about transparency. We primarily use Jira for planning the work of each team member, collaborating among teams, and logging work.
Slack is one of the best communication tools for teams, as it allows you to create threads within conversations and keeps messages organized and easy to navigate.
We use Skype for voice and video communication. It’s still the most popular video conferencing tool that offers enough functionality for convenient daily calls.
For email correspondence, we use Gmail, as it’s integrated with other Google products as well as Jira. This allows us to communicate with our clients and receive notifications on changes in meeting schedules or tasks.
Google Docs is the primary document editor we use. However, we also store project documentation in Atlassian.
Confluence is another product from Atlassian that helps with team management and documentation storage. Confluence offers different storage options and helps you create “spaces” where you can store and organize your documents.
Figma is a UI/UX design tool that allows collaboration between developers, designers, and stakeholders. It allows us to create design concepts, comment on them, and share them with all stakeholders and developers.
The main principle when communicating with your outsourcing company is to treat each specialist like your partner. Remember that your outsourcing partner wants you to succeed as much as you do, and they’re also interested in having a smooth collaboration experience.
Micromanagement and lack of a personal approach can harm communication between you and your offshore partner. However, make sure to set boundaries and discuss communication expectations before you start a project together.