LearnHow we're doing with our outsourced development team

Ryan
writes on July 14, 2007

I came across this vitriolic thread about me this morning. Wow, what a great way to start the day 🙂

So I’d like to give everyone an update on my original post titled Why you need to get rid of your freelance developer ASAP.

We couldn’t be happier

Since we decided to stop using freelance developers and invest in building a development team in Russia, things have gone really well. We’ve made huge improvements to DropSend and the backend to our events system.

In case you never read my first post, our setup is fairly simple. We have one manager who works 20 hours a week for us and he speaks fluent English. His name is Alex and he manages our full time LAMP developer (who is named Marat). Alex is super friendly, happy to help, very professional, and overall, a joy to work with. I’ve never actually emailed Marat directly, but I’m sure he’s a nice guy as well 😉

Whenever we need a new task done, I put it on a list in Basecamp. The higher up the to-do list, the higher priority it is. It works great. Occasionally, I’ll wireframe something if it needs detailed explanation.

The challenges

The hard part about having a team off-site is that you have to specify things in detail. You can’t just lean over your shoulder and say, “How’s it going? Oh, that’s not quite what I meant … Let me draw a sketch for you.” etc etc.

I find that when I’m asking for a brand new module to be built, I have to thoroughly think through the details and do a lot of sketches. Ironically though, this has helped us to avoid some snags that we would’ve encountered if we hadn’t specified things carefully.

Overall, it’s rocking and I’m so glad we’ve got Alex and Marat on the team! We might even be adding another developer and increasing Alex’s (the Manager) time to 80 hours a month.

0 Responses to “How we're doing with our outsourced development team”

  1. Wow, I am just reading this string now and it is amazing to see the range of views and experiences with offshoring.

    In my past corp life, we offshored a big piece of marketing. In our current start-up, we have chosen to outsource as much as we can for two reasons: 1. to get the best expertise globally (that’s the biggest reason, which includes the quality of service), and 2. the lowest possible cost. All of our partners are very small companies. In fact, when we looked at global best, the larger co’s worldwide didn’t seem to be strong enough, if you ignored scale.

    We have been nothing but extraordinarily satisfied with capabilities being delivered from Romania, testing in India, creative and early innovation elements in North America. Lots more we plan to do. Global sourcing is, in my experience, the right way to go and best for everyone, as long as it is done right.

    Just a few cents worth.

    M
    http://www.riseofthelittleguy.com

  2. Heather – Contracts dont work when you outsource because you can’t enforce them . It is risky to outsource but even big fortune 500 companies outsource jobs as delicate as credit card customer support. You can hire people locally and they will still steal from you . People still everyday, it does not matter where they are .
    Even if someone stills you app they can’t do much with it because the reason why the app succeeds is because of a combination of business skills . After all when you launch the app someone can clone it the next day .
    Google bought youtube because even though they have billions of dollars google video could not match youtube . Lots of companies acquire other companies because they know that just cloning or creating the software from scratch wont make them successful.
    You can get a clone of myspace from phpfox.com but that does not mean you will be as successful as myspace .
    Anyway I hope you get the gist !!!

  3. Heather on July 23, 2007 at 2:40 pm said:

    Ryan,

    can I ask you what legal contract you have in place with your people in Russia?

    One of the risks of outsourcing your development is that the developer could make life difficult for you in that
    1) they could steal your property (code/app/design) and sell it to someone else or
    2) they could sabotage (take offline, corrupt data) your site if there is some dispute.

    How did you protect yourself? Or do you just trust they like google will “do no evil”.

  4. Nathan,

    How would you go about checking that your internal source code is secure, and “professional”?

    The same way you’d do it for an outsourced team. Third party code-review and security audits.

    Michael

  5. @Everyone: Thanks for all the support – really appreciate it!

    @Nathan: It’s important to check in on the developers, use the code, and occasionally have a peak at the code

  6. Hey Ryan,
    I met you at SXSW briefly and you were a first class guy. You know you are doing something right when they talk about you. Keep up the solid work.

  7. Jeff Ward on July 16, 2007 at 6:44 pm said:

    Ryan,

    About that other post – don’t sweat it. You’re doing just fine. Really appreciate your blog, man.

    Jeff

  8. Hi Ryan,

    A question about outsourcing:

    How do you verify that the work that’s being done is professional work?

    For example, if I’d like to outsource a project that requires a secure administration tool, how can I tell that it’s secure?

  9. I do sometimes wonder why anyone hires me. I’m based in London and several of my US clients pay way over the odds with the pound so strong and the dollar so weak. They could get it so much cheaper elsewhere: india, russia, wherever. Still, I’m not complaining!

    Looking forward to helping out with FOWA in october (emailed Mel this morning).

  10. Wow, what an uncalled for lashing out on the thread that you posted. That’s fun reading for a Monday. Glad that things are going well for you with your team. I really am a firm believer in outsourcing, but it is all about the professionalism of the people on both sides of the team.

  11. Ryan,

    I think Lars made a good point; 20 hours per week equals 80 hours per month. I know you explained that issue, but the post has, “We have one manager who works 20 hours a week for us and he speaks fluent English”.

    Good stuff though; it’s encouraging to know that companies still have confidence in work being done remotely.

  12. I’m looking at building an app, and I haven’t got the relevant technical expertise. Would you recommend getting a developer to build it and then outsource the follow up work? Or do you think that I could use something like Odesk to get the app built?

    I’d be interested to know if you built another app which way you’d go now.

  13. Glad to here it is going alright Ryan, and I had a good chuckle at that thread! Just don’t go out sourcing your customer service to another country or Ill kill you though…. 😉

  14. You’re dealing with people here, and what matters to the extreme is the dedication the person(s) are willing to give you.

  15. @Willie

    I disagree because based on real-world experience (which is what matters, right?) our manager does an amazing job of communicating and he takes care of the small details that I don’t have time to manage. It’s a win-win situation.

    Once you try it, why don’t you come back and tell us what you think? 😉

  16. @Ryan, Slobodan:
    I see what you are saying and your rationale for it, yet I don’t agree with it. I can understand the drive to cut costs by hiring offshore (I’d probably try it myself if I needed it), but..

    I’m just very suspicious of hiring developers who “cannot communicate effectively” or “lack social skills” in the first place.
    First and foremost communication overheads are the single biggest overhead in software development, information gets warped as it passes through more people, and complexity of communication goes up exponentially for each person you add to a chain.

    I’d rather just pay the combined price of the manager and developer (and perhaps even a small premium on that) for one GOOD person who has the social and communication skills as well, rather than have the overhead of extra people just regurgitating (and possibly misinterpreting) information.

  17. Lars, Alex is currently working 20 hours per month, not week.

  18. 20 hours a week is: 80 hours a month. Where’s the increase?

  19. @Willie – Slobodan hit it on the head. Also, as our development team goes, it makes it much easier as a manager is already in place.

    @Everyone – Thanks for the support. Made me smile 🙂

  20. Clearly some people get upset at the thought that they can be replaced by someone in a foreign country who earns a fraction of what they do.
    I think their time would be better spent figuring out how to differentiate themselves; what you’re doing — keeping your overheads down — makes sense to me.

  21. Wille, let me answer your question why Ryan has a manager for only one programmer (btw, I am a head of a company in Eastern Europe that predominantly does outsourced work).

    The reason is simple: not all programmers are able to communicate effectively with clients. It might be that they don’t know English very well. Perhaps they lack social skills (as many programmers do). Manager role is to understand what a client is looking for and then translate that to programmer language (i.e. more technical), hence minimizing possibility of misunderstandings.

    In our team only one programmer, beside me, communicates with clients. Others are not suitable to handle client communication.

  22. Hmm.. Maybe I am misunderstanding something.. But why in the world do you have a manager, who by the sounds of it only manages a single person?

    Sounds a bit… stupid to me.. Reminds me of projects I’ve heard of where a three different managers had the single role of managing a single person, who happened to be the same person for all the managers.. A waste.

  23. Very amusing to read the silly messages posted on the other site. Keep up the good work, Ryan.

  24. That thread is SO funny. If those people were any good, they’d be doing what Ryan’s doing.

    They suck.

  25. A. Motaz on July 14, 2007 at 10:17 pm said:

    Cool! I’ve been waiting for this update.

    Glad it’s working out for you 🙂

    -am

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