Questions to ask when thinking about outsourcing

Are you thinking about outsourcing?

I received an email today from a company in South America that wanted to provide me with several inexpensive near-shore development resources.

I bet you get them too.

The challenge when you read the amazing promises highlighted in their outbound marketing is that it's hard to tell fact from fiction.

It's also hard, if you've never worked with remote resources, to even know where to begin.

What questions do you even ask? How do you evaluate whether it's a good idea, or even a good company?

Here are some of the questions I ask

What is the profile of your staff? How much formal (university) education do they have?

At my last job, we used some resources from India, and others from Mexico. In both cases, this question helped me understand the kind of resources a company was offering.

What percentage of the staff are working for their first employer/ first job?

Years ago I worked with a company in India and another in Ireland. Both had a significant number of staff in their first job ever. It meant I had to spend time working thru some basic issues I hadn't planned – simply because I was working with first time employees. This isn't horrible, but it changes the cost dynamic.

What percentage of your customers are repeat customers? 

I use this question even when evaluating US companies. Repeat customers is one of the easiest ways for me to determine how well you're doing. It's not perfect and it can create blind spots like any single metric can. But it's a useful one for me.

How do you track projects and tasks?

The issue here is where project management is happening. Is it local? Or is it remote? Or both? Knowing how much visibility you get into specific resources and specific tasks can help you understand what your own internal costs will be.

How much rework is being done on assignments?

The largest struggle with working with remote, outsourced staff is that there can be miscommunication because of poorly managed expectations. The result is fine-grained communication that is more constant (and more costly), while also adding in another layer of quality assurance.

The goal isn't to stump a company with my questions. It's to get at the heart of how they work, and see if there's a good or poor fit with your company and its needs.

I know a lot of folks who would have rejected the email I got today – simply because they only trust work that's produced where they can see it.

That's a bummer.

The reality is that I don't need any remote off-shore outsourcing today. But I do manage remote full time staff (Romania, Bulgaria, etc), and all of these questions apply to me, even in the context I'm in right now.

So learn to ask the right questions, and to get the answers, to see if it's right for you.