Bringing in the big outside guns only ensure that someone will get shot. It’s the corporate equivalent of keeping a loaded .22 on your nightstand. There are two truths in that analogy. The first is that the only solid advantage outsources provide is that they’re easy targets. The second is that .22s do more wounding than killing. They just make a mess that you have to clean up yourself. Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons, Informationweek, April 22, 2013.
We thought we had a brilliant idea. Those big technical firms were great at software we heard, so we’ll outsource it to them instead of doing it in house. Our in house efforts have been one disappointment after the next. Sure, they produced some useful things and kept us in business but compared to what we wanted and what it costs, it sure wasn’t working out well. These big companies were clearly successful, they were big companies after all, and will make all the difference!
Did that work out? No, not really.
In one particular outsourced project, I recall managers saying that getting needed talent was no longer a problem, because the outsourcers would just hire whomever they need. It never struck these managers that if we had staffing challenges, the outsourcers might have challenges also. Guess what? The outsourcers told us that they couldn’t do everything we needed in the timeframe we wanted because they could not find and bring up to speed that many people in the period of time given. Gee, that is what our engineering managers use to tell us!
Since we didn’t have all the technical teams we use to manage, we should have a lot less meetings because we only need to have meetings with the contractors! What happened? The contractors finally told us, in exasperation, that they could either attend our meetings or do the work. Wow. That’s exactly what our own teams had been telling us for years!
The core problem was that we managed the outsourced resources the same way we managed our in-house resources. Strangely, it seemed to us, we got the same results: failed or late projects with low quality results that rarely met any type of expectations. The nice part was that we now could blame the contractors without having to point fingers at our own managed teams! That’s an improvement, yes?
Compare with successful managers without successful projects.
What these real world examples illustrated was that the way we were managing our teams (internal, outsourced or both) was the root cause of our problems. It didn’t matter where or what the teams were: organic, contractors, offshore or onshore, we got the same — poor — results.
The bottom line became starkly clear after we finally figured out how to deliver on time with good quality. If we could manage an outsourced team well enough to get good results we could manage our own internal team to get good to great results with all the advantages of investing in an organic team. The management of the team made all the difference, not where the team was located.
For more on delivering on time see Its The Schedule Stupid!
Have your outsourced projects overcome the challenges that motivated you to use outsourcing?