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Establishing Effective Ways of Working with an External Software Development Team







Establishing Effective Ways of Working with an External Software Development Team

Published: 2023/02/09

10 min read

While selecting a software outsourcing partner is a huge decision, agreeing on the practical details of the cooperation between the external development team and your in-house staff will determine whether the partnership is successful or not. Defining expectations before the project starts helps both parties navigate the onboarding process and build the foundations for cost-effective, productive and fast development. Read on to learn the key steps to take before kicking off your project. 

Entrust your software development partner to assemble a skilled team 

Working with a software outsourcing company can take different forms, depending on your business objectives. 

External development teams usually support organizations as: 

  • Autonomous teams. A client provides product requirements, and the external team delivers the desired outcomes. In this approach, an external team is fully managed by the outsourcing partner and communication between the team and the company is usually limited to exchanging information, giving updates and reporting outcomes. 
  • Dedicated external teams managed by an in-house product owner. A client’s product owner (or project manager) is actively engaged in planning the product backlog and works closely with the external developers by prioritizing product requirements and giving feedback on the team’s work. 
  • Mixed teams. This team is comprised of both in-house and external developers, who are integrated into a client’s team in terms of planning, assigning tasks and deciding on the technical direction. A mixed team is supported by the IT partner’s software delivery manager (SDM) who helps solve potential issues, manages the external team’s structure and oversees their skill development. Since external developers merge with the in-house staff, their onboarding process proceeds faster as team members easily exchange knowledge and solve problems together.  

The SDM on the software outsourcing company’s end selects the best matches for the project from a pool of existing employees and recruited candidates, based on: 

  • the technologies and frameworks used in a project and the knowledge required from potential developers, 
  • the developers’ professional/commercial experience and industry expertise, 
  • critical soft skills, such as being a team player and communicating clearly in English. 

A development team wouldn’t be complete without a team leader (or leaders, depending on the size of the team) who will, among other things, take charge of the first technical decisions in the project. A reliable IT partner will choose a team leader who has a proven track record of crafting high-quality code, overcoming delivery obstacles, taking ownership and incorporating an Agile mindset into software delivery and beyond. 

While the software development partner assembles the development team, the next step is to understand how you are going to manage the project and how you will organize your software delivery processes. 

An experienced software outsourcing partner will have a battle-tested, transparent approach to software development and delivery that will guide you through their process. To drive efficiency, many organizations implement an Agile methodology. According to a McKinsey Global Survey, companies that underwent successful agile transformations observed a 30% increase in efficiency, operational performance and employee engagement. 

However, one company’s Agile mindset might not directly translate into another organization’s understanding of Agile. You and your software outsourcing partner will need to align your approach to this way of working. It will ease the high-level collaboration between you and the IT partner, as well as the more granular cooperation between the development team and business stakeholders. Moreover, the McKinsey Global Survey also shows that efforts to turn into an agile organization are at least 30% more likely to be successful when executives understand agility and its benefits.

Read also: What is IT Project Management?

Key pillars of the Agile mindset 

The Agile mindset describes how a company approaches projects and software delivery, promoting transparency, trust and high quality of work. 

  1. Flexibility – Agile teams adapt quickly to changes, using them to innovate and strengthen their solutions. 
  2. Productivity – An Agile mindset values simplicity and sustainability by strategically choosing and prioritizing tasks to ensure steady progress. 
  3. Excellence – Agile teams deliver first-class software due to their skills, attention to quality and design, and they always seek areas for improvement. 
  4. Engagement – Self-organization and a supportive environment keep motivating driven team members to deliver their best work. 

Why adopt the Agile mindset?

  • Speed up software delivery – A development team can deliver small “packages” in shorter periods. 
  • Gain better visibility – Tasks are planned with weeks, rather than months, in mind. 
  • React quickly to changes in the market – Deployment in small batches enables faster feedback from the market. 
  • Address potential risks early – By planning tasks within shorter periods and working in smaller batches, potential issues are found and solved early, which saves time on major bug fixes down the line and lowers overall delivery costs.  
  • Assemble cross-functional autonomous teams – A skilled team with a clear task backlog delivers results and encourages a culture of trust and ownership. 

Agile practitioners surveyed for the 15th State of Agile report also indicated that the adoption of Agile in their organizations improved the management of changing priorities (70%), visibility (70%) and alignment between business and IT (66%).  

Apart from a comprehensive methodology, a software outsourcing partner will also implement a project management system for its developers. One of the frameworks that upholds Agile values is Scrum. Scrum outlines clear guidelines for the team to do their best work, streamlines the cooperation between different roles and enables real-time adjustments to improve software delivery. 

A development team working within the Scrum framework:

  • plans their activities across sprints that run for around one to four weeks, depending on the project, and aims to deliver tangible value after each sprint, 
  • meets for brief daily stand-ups to maintain visibility and goal alignment, 
  • comes prepared for weekly refinement meetings where team members discuss tasks planned for upcoming sprints, 
  • conducts sprint reviews at the end of each sprint to present what the team has accomplished so far and how it compares to the initial schedule so that they can adjust plans for the next sprint, 
  • participates in regular sprint retrospectives to discuss issues encountered during the last sprint, brainstorm improvements and create action plans to avoid similar problems in the future. 

A Scrum framework provides a clear development roadmap, boosts visibility and makes room for refining processes. It also drives efficiency by eliminating unnecessary meetings and champions transparency among team members and other stakeholders. 

Read also: How to structure a software development team?

For many companies with little first-hand experience with software development processes, Agile and Scrum can be difficult to navigate. It’s important, then, that a software outsourcing partner guides an organization through the process and explains their project management approach. 

Communicate effectively with your remote development team 

Since near- and offshoring teams support organizations remotely, it is crucial to establish channels and mutual expectations around communication. This is both so the external development team has the necessary means to contact stakeholders in your organization, but also so that your stakeholders can get relevant information when they need it. 

Depending on the form of cooperation, the external development team will either regularly communicate with your developers directly over chat or video calls, or the daily contact will be more limited. Before the project starts, you and the software outsourcing company will decide the tool you will be using for communication. There are plenty of remote collaboration programs so it’s often a question of what your company uses on a daily basis.A practical guide to onboarding a software outsourcing partner

Next, the team sets up relevant channels for external and in-house developers or product owners. In some cases, organizations also create a separate channel for internal departments. In this space, an external team can relay information on new functionalities or implemented changes that affect department processes. 

Organizations often find that, in practice, numerous stakeholders are involved in collaborating with a software development partner. From IT and product stakeholders to business owners, a company will utilize different contact points at different stages. That’s why reliable IT partners make it clear who the people in the development team are and what they’re responsible for. 

1. Software delivery manager – manages the team set-up, supervises skill development, updates the company on staff changes, facilitates communication between the team and the product stakeholders  

2. Product owner – plans product backlog, manages product requirements, checks the team’s work and provides feedback 

3. Team lead – supports a product owner in planning product backlog, assists team members, validates solutions, develops solutions 

4. Scrum Master – helps the team solve day-to-day problems, enhances and facilitates the Scrum process, promotes the Agile approach, optimizes the team’s processes for higher productivity, supports the product owner and minimizes or prevents project risks 

5. Frontend and backend developers, quality assurance and test engineers, other software development roles – responsible for building the solution; tasks depend on their area of expertise 

This visibility strengthens daily collaboration and creates an opportunity to identify any skill or role gaps in the proposed team set-up. As technical requirements of your product are further explored, it might turn out that the product calls for a specific area of expertise e.g., Machine Learning or DevOps. Spotting and filling such gaps as soon as possible facilitates the development process and enhances the final product. 

An effective project management framework, such as Scrum, eliminates the risk of organizing redundant meetings. In other words, every call that includes several people should have a clear purpose, such as exchanging knowledge or providing progress updates. 

To have productive meetings, follow these best practices:

  • Don’t run meetings without an agenda. Organize meetings only when you have specific points you want to discuss with the team. Agendas help participants stay on track and ensure that the main goal of the meeting is met. 
  • Invite only the people whose presence is needed. Be selective when choosing participants for the meeting. Each invited person should have a good reason to be there. 
  • Don’t be a fly on the wall. Remember to actively participate in a discussion, rather than muting yourself and passively listening to other people brainstorm. 
  • Switch the camera on. It’s easier to stay focused, share your ideas and boost connections when you and other participants can see each other. 

Gain visibility through transparent reporting practices 

When cooperating with an IT outsourcing partner, you might be concerned about the extent of visibility you can get into an external team’s work. After all, they hold a large responsibility over your product development, but, formally, they are not a part of your organization. Even when integrating external developers into your in-house development team, these concerns can still exist. That’s why it’s crucial to decide how your software development partner will report the team’s progress before the start of the project. 

Often, software outsourcing partners assign a main liaison between their client and the development team (e.g., an SDM) who will be responsible for managing reporting activities. The person in this role supports a client in streamlining communication, solving issues and ensuring smooth cooperation between the external and in-house teams. 

While an SDM can help you address urgent matters, most reporting practices have regular schedules. They should provide you with a solid understanding of what’s currently going on in the project. 

A good method of sharing development progress is to hold dedicated meetings: 

  • Sprint reviews. A standard element of Scrum management, they are an opportunity to see the outcomes of the development team’s work over the past few weeks. 
  • Catch-up calls. Organized regularly by the SDM from the outsourcer’s side and held according to your needs, they present an opportunity to address any concerns regarding the team’s progress and get updates on the team’s structure, including any personnel changes (people switching to other projects, vacancies being filled and so on). 

Apart from qualitative information, in some cases you can also ask your software outsourcing partner for quantitative reports. These can include a list of finished tasks, the number of fixed bugs, a summary of delivered features and amount of time spent on tasks. 

Use secure connection routes to protect your company’s data 

Product development and digital transformation efforts require access to some company systems and data. A trustworthy software outsourcing partner will work closely with you to figure out optimal security measures to keep your data safe while making it accessible to authorized team members when product development requires it. 

A standard arrangement involves a site-to-site virtual private network (VPN). A VPN forms an encrypted “tunnel” between a device and a server so that authorized people can connect with the company’s database and systems in a more secure way, regardless of their location. Usually, the software development partner will work with you to either install a VPN (if your organization doesn’t have one) or to utilize the VPN your company already uses. 

Apart from a safe network connection, an external development team needs access to basic resources and systems they have to use for a project. Before they start working on your product, they need to get acquainted with the current technical settings, especially if they’re going to support existing development efforts. This introduction includes: 

  • the architecture set-up, 
  • specific tools used, 
  • the workflow between solutions and systems, 
  • expected project outcomes. 

The development team also needs to be granted access to various tools and programs that are necessary for their daily work. Depending on the project, the team might request access to: 

  • a repository, the person who manages it and information on different access levels, 
  • project management and collaboration tools (e.g., Jira, Azure DevOps), 
  • product design tools (e.g., Miro, Figma, InVision, Axure RP). 

Moreover, the external development team will require accounts to log into systems. The specifics of creating these accounts are usually coordinated with an organization’s IT team. For example, an IT team might provide an external team with email addresses in a company’s domain. Ultimately, it is up to you and your software outsourcing partner to figure out a way to set up accounts that makes the most sense for both of you and for project requirements. 

Read also: The three pillars of Scrum

Productive collaboration begins before a project starts 

By establishing Ways of Working together, you and your software outsourcing partner pave a way towards cooperation based on trust, communication and clear expectations. Remember that, as with any software delivery process, the collaboration with the development team will be tweaked and optimized over time in response to the distinct challenges encountered during a project. 

The pressure to speed up software delivery has never been greater, which is why companies are turning to Software Mind, whose wide expertise, technical skills and 20+ years of engineering solutions across a range of industries ensure fast results and peace of mind. To learn more about building a cross-functional team, get in touch with our experts by filling out the form below.


About the authorTomasz Borowski

Software Delivery Manager

A Software Delivery Manager with 13 years’ experience, Tomasz has built effective value delivery streams and high-performance engineering teams. Having worked in a range of software development roles, from Scrum Master to Head of Strategic Projects, he combines business and technical expertise to design and promote efficient processes. A strong advocate of Agile team management, he actively fosters an environment of openness, transparency, respect, focus and trust.

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