Some Myths and Fallacies Still Perpetuated About Offshore Software Development

2016-11-15 by

First let me make a confession: we've done quite a bit of offshore software development in the Philippines. More than 10+ years, in fact. We've written in the past about the Do's and Don'ts of offshore software development on our website. So I thought there might not be much more for us to say at this point, until I wondered...what are other people saying in their blog posts about offshore software development? So I took a look, and here is what I found.

I found quite a bit of useful, and some not so useful, and some downright totally incorrect information in the blogs I read. Since my search was on "offshore development blog posts", and since I navigated from the top of the first page down the list, it was quite shocking to find some of the latter ("totally incorrect") information near the top of the page rankings. Must have some pretty good SEO going on.

I'm not going to start calling particular people out, because I think that when I encountered information of the "totally incorrect" persuasion, it's probably because either 1) the author has very little offshore experience, or 2) the author is really touting onshore services, and they're dissing the offshore variety. Since I don't know which of the two persuasions apply in specific cases, and in order to be polite, I'll avoid that confrontation.

Nevertheless, we can talk about the statement being made. In order not to be too hard on any one author, I placed a restriction on myself not to take more than one fallacious statement from a given blog post. Here are a few statements that definitely belong in the category of Myth or Fallacy:

"never expect to pay a professional 50% less than market rate and get comparable talent solely due to differences in geography"

What utter nonsense on a number of fronts! First of all - what market? As if there is A MARKET, and only one market. Of course, there are different markets all around the world due to economic differences such as cost of living. So the question really becomes: can you find people with comparable talent offshore? The answer is decidedly YES, and you can expect to pay less than you would for the same onshore resource. Some offshore resources emigrate onshore in order to get the higher salaries, but for many reasons, such as family, many choose to stay in their country of origin.

"There must be a full-time onshore technical team lead whose sole job is to work with the offshore team"

Well that's just not true either. In fact, this statement is a myth because it enforces a particular onshore/offshore team structure: onshore team (master) using offshore team (slave). I use those provocative words deliberately, because that is exactly how some organizations view their team structures: onshore innovation dominating and controlling offshore coders. This makes the mistake of decreasing cohesion between the team, while unnecessarily increasing coupling between distributed teams. You can set your team up that way, but believe me you won't reap the benefit of offshore software development. Read more about that here.

"The iterative models that we prefer are made significantly more difficult when dealing with offshore teams."

Like the previous point, this statement implies a particular team and project structure combined with an Agile methodology. That makes it all the more an insidious myth and fallacy. To be sure, if you did set your project team up in the manner implied you might well experience failure. It presupposes attempting to utilize an iterative methodology such as Agile across a geographically distributed team. Many early onshore-offshore Agile attempts, and some current ones, still make the same mistake of decreasing cohesion of their teams, while unnecessarily increasing coupling between distributed teams. This flies in the face of 40 years of software development practices that have taught us unequivocally that we must increase cohesion and reduce coupling in order to have well designed software, and well designed teams. Read more about that here.

In closing just let me say that all is not lost. Some organizations practicing Agile and Offshore delivery are coming to an understanding that the problems encountered in early attempts are solvable, and eminently so. The solutions required both a different view of onshore and offshore contributions, as well as some integration of processes and methodologies not conceived of in earlier attempts. That's a good thing. It shows we're learning.

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