Software Development Fears #3: Protecting yourself in an outsource partnership
It’s one of the most obvious questions, but also one of the hardest to tackle when considering a potential outsource development partner: How will I be protected? After all, another entity will be handling your IP; you might not have any prior experience contracting in this area; prior to work actually being done, there’s no guarantee as to the standard of that work; finally, there’s potentially a lot of money at stake. These are legitimate concerns, and having been on the client side of the partnership, Carl knows them only too well. Here, in the third article in our series of Software Development Fears, he chats to Mike about what it takes to feel secure in an outsource relationship.
Mike: Did you ever feel vulnerable when tackling a big project with an external partner?
Carl: Yes. I think it’s inevitable. Humans like to control things. They especially like to control things when their reputation, or a large amount of money, or both, is on the line.
Mike: Typically, the concerns we hear centre on IP, wanting to work on a fixed cost and weighing up the cost benefit of outsourcing vs building an internal team.
Carl: That makes sense. The IP question is particularly relevant if they’re a business with new technology or a unique value proposition that will attract the competition quickly.
Mike: …which is why we are at pains to stress the fact that all the IP, always, belongs to our partners, and that we will never be their competition. We work on a time and materials basis with very clear and well-defined parameters because it makes things more efficient and better for everyone. But, if I recall correctly, you were more concerned with getting into the market than with IP!
Carl: In my case, in my previous life in corporate, when I made the decision to partner with NONA my concerns were less about IP and more about speed, and spending a lot of money on something new. We’d invested in designing and building a mobile customer engagement experience that had never been done before, so I was primarily worried about it working properly. And then, if it worked properly, about getting results that were valuable to the business.
Mike: So what alleviated those concerns?
Carl: I think I had a lot of confidence in NONA, but outside of that, we contracted tightly around deliverables. Good project management and communication is also key, of course. So much can go wrong if you’re not talking all the time.
Mike: What were your thoughts on the specifics of how we arrange our work and contracting?
Carl: What stood out for me was the total transparency and high levels of communication. NONA insisted that we have a stand up at least once a week and offered to make it more frequent if that would be better for me. NONA even offered to open up the Jira board for me to see the reality of the project progress, and this made me feel really comfortable. There was total trust and transparency. This made me feel that the worst that could happen would be that a sprint would be going in the wrong direction; but then we could simply pull it back, correct and carry on.
Mike: It probably helped that we’re both South Africans, and that we knew each other, and that we had mutual friends and colleagues in the industry. How do you think the situation differs for our global partners?
Carl: I’d imagine it feels much more risky to go with a niche development studio that is HQ’d on the tip of Africa! If I was wearing a hat I’d definitely tip it to our fantastic international partners. That said, I’d like to think that recognising that fact helps us to go the extra mile and then some. I mean, you, our CEO sits in Australia and at any given time we have up to 30% of the team scattered around the world — I think it’s safe to say that geographical location should no longer be a hindrance to building a great company and delivering great work. You and I are acutely aware of the concerns our partners have, and I feel like we do as much as possible to address them, to ensure ongoing communication and to produce only excellent work. Because we have such a maniacal focus on quality, continuous improvement and non-stop learning, ideally our reputation will precede us and if it doesn’t, we have a deep portfolio of projects delivered successfully for clients around the world.