Is Your Outsourcer Agile Enough?

More companies are choosing agile development to create user-friendly, quickly evolving enterprise apps. Here's how to decide if your outsourcer is up to the task.

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That's the decision Medidata made last year when the company decided to expand one of its software offerings and once again took a serious look at outsourcing agile development. "We decided to hire and increase the size of our internal development team instead," Newbigging says. "We feel quite strongly that we're better off having our own developers building the software, and also being responsible for maintaining it, responding quickly to any issues. They are able to understand the software because they built it in the first place, and that's harder to achieve if the original development was done elsewhere. You don't have that same depth of knowledge."

Outsource for the Right Reasons

While keeping all agile development in-house may top the wish list of many IT leaders, it's not a realistic plan for every company or every situation. With looming technology skills shortages and pressure on IT budgets, some agile software projects will have to be outsourced.

So how do you decide if it's right to outsource an agile project? Begin by asking yourself what you hope to gain from working with an outsourcer. "The ideal reason is so as to give immediate response to a business need," says Max Rayner, executive-in-residence at consulting firm Hudson Crossing. "Can you find ways to also have it lower cost? Yes -- but something important enough to be done in an agile way is likely to be worthwhile, whether you're paying $1,500 a day or $1,000 a day or $750 a day. By going to some of the lowest-cost countries, you can get a very competent programmer for $25,000 a year, including benefits -- but that's not necessarily going to help your project succeed."

Before joining Hudson Crossing, Rayner was CTO at TravelZoo and oversaw the creation of the travel search site, for which he used an outsourcing company based in Lisbon, Portugal. "That was a 100% agile project using scrum," he says. (In scrum, small teams work on a specified portion of the requirements for a limited amount of time and hold daily meetings to assess progress and address any questions or problems.) "I was in California, so we had hardly any overlap in our work days, but it worked brilliantly. My morning was their evening so I would get to say, 'OK, yesterday we agreed you were going to do these five things. Did you do them? How's it going?' "

There were members of Rayner's team working on the project in California as well, he adds. "At the end of the workday, each team would hand off to the other shift. That's more complex than a traditional agile arrangement where everyone is in one location, but I was willing to take responsibility for the time, cost, and feature tradeoffs," Rayner says.

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