Iterative development processes, such as Agile and DevOps, enable organizations to stay competitive as they increase velocity and product quality during the development lifecycle. One of the most important -- and often prohibitive -- elements associated with these processes is cost.
Outsourcing is one way to reduce development costs. To many organizations, however, outsourced Agile may seem like an oxymoron.
There are ways to effectively outsource an Agile development practice. But first, organizations must overcome challenges related to communication, onboarding and goal-setting.
Communication and collaboration
The success of Agile methodology rests on team members' interactions and their ability to collaborate. This made team colocation a critical component of early Agile adoption in tech companies. If teams want to succeed with outsourced Agile, they must facilitate collaboration and communication across distributed teams. Emphasize communication as a fundamental element of how the Agile team works and provide the proper tools to foster collaboration.
Team leaders should schedule Agile ceremonies during normal working windows that overlap time zones as much as possible. While the COVID-19 pandemic largely derailed in-person kickoffs, it's still possible to connect all team members -- regardless of their location -- at the same time.
Tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom enable virtual team members to see each other and closely simulate an in-person meeting. In addition, tools like Slack and Twist allow for instant communication between colleagues, which is critical to the team's success.
If possible, colocate developers and testers by time zone to facilitate build deployment and testing and drive communication. Limit team size to under 10 members; smaller teams breed better communication, collaboration and coordination.
Onboarding and resource access
Distributed teams can struggle with onboarding and resource access. Before creating a team, develop an onboarding and access plan for all physical and digital resources that team members will need. This plan should cover permissions, licensing and training.
Create a comprehensive list of all tools the team will use, including SDKs, data repositories, and project management and prototyping tools. Determine which team members will need access, and the level of access they will need. If an outsourced team will work on previously developed products or code, provide training and documentation to ensure a smooth transition.
If onboarding and resource provisioning aren't seamless, it will negatively affect team productivity and morale.
A lack of shared vision and goals
For outsourced Agile teams to succeed, they need clear, unambiguous guidance and direction from the project leader on the end goals and overall vision. Develop a shared understanding of project goals and objectives, as well as the organization's culture and values.
Stress the importance of teamwork and transparency among team members and across teams. A common understanding of team members' cultural differences is critical for team development.
Regulated industry considerations
Outsourcing Agile development in regulated industries comes with its own set of challenges. Most importantly, the organization is ultimately responsible for the outsourced vendor's performance -- regardless of the contract they have. Ensure the outsourced team has experience in your specific industry and understands all applicable regulations.
How to choose an outsourcing vendor
One of the most important considerations in choosing an Agile outsourcing vendor is experience. An outsourcing partner should have a mature Agile practice with team members who are highly experienced and hold certifications in their specialties.
Larger outsourcing vendors will likely have a practice in your given project's focus area. Smaller vendors may offer more flexibility and be able to source team members with your domain experience. Look for a vendor whose organizational culture is similar to yours.
Two important documents come into play when an organization looks for a vendor: the master service agreement and the statement of work. These documents outline how companies will work together. They should protect the buyer, but also balance the self-governing nature of Agile teams with the buyer's expectations around scope and timeline. Governance plans must be documented and include regular governance meetings. These documents should also define delivery management practices and KPIs.