Our top tips for working with external development teams

11 min read
December 19, 2022

Outsourcing might be one of the most effective approaches to software development, but it’s by no means easy.

Language barriers, different time zones, inexperienced teams, communication issues—these are just some of the many obstacles you’ll face when working with a remote team.

It’s why roughly 50% of outsourced projects end up in failure.

But we’re not here to discourage you.

On the contrary, we’re here to tell you to give outsourcing a shot!

And to help you out, we’re outlining the following tips to increase your chances for success.

Start with a smaller project first

One of the most effective, although overlooked, ways to vet an external development team is to run a smaller project with them first.

See, no matter how good your screening process is, it can never 100% guarantee that your external development team will be a good fit for your company.

For instance, a team might have worked on successful apps before but may still struggle with your project because it’s a new concept.

Or, in some cases, the team might have misled you with fake reviews and case studies on their website!

Thus, the best way to really get to know a development team is to work with them on a test project.

Smaller projects allow you to gauge the team’s skills, communication style, and work ethics without too much risk.

This tactic also gives you insights into the best ways to collaborate with them if you decide to hire them for a bigger project.

When handing out test projects, make sure it’s something that you can afford to fail with. For instance, you can have the development team work on the Help section of your culinary app.

Also, have a contingency in place, such as an in-house developer who can oversee and take over the task if needed.

Finally, don’t forget to monitor the team’s performance using KPIs.

This evidence can help support your decisions objectively, whether it’s to hire the team or consider them for another task.

Choose the right project manager

The project manager is a key element of your software development’s success. That’s why selecting the right one is vital.

A project manager is like a conductor in an orchestra. Without him or her, the development process can quickly turn into a jumbled mess.

Project managers are responsible for ensuring the project is on track. They monitor the milestones, assign tasks, and ensure no task is left behind.

Should delays happen, they are on top of it to find solutions quickly.

Project managers also act as the team’s liaisons. They communicate important updates between the team and project stakeholders.

It’s also their job to update the client regularly on the project’s progress.

software development team structure

Source: Asper Brothers

Ideally, a project manager will be someone from your in-house team. That way, they’ll have better control over the project and already be familiar with your quality standards.

However, you shouldn’t just pick that person blindly.

Because of their huge responsibilities, a good project manager should have a wide breadth of skills. When hiring one, you should look for the following:

Essential skills to master for project managers

Source: Kissflow

Effective communication is, in our opinion, at the top of this list.

Even if a manager has solid leadership and task management skills, it’ll be useless if they can’t coordinate with the team properly.

Communication and even negotiating skills are necessary to resolve issues within the team.

The important thing is not to rush the process—hiring the right project manager takes time.

However, it could pay dividends when they help you complete software projects within budget and on schedule.

Ensure the external team knows their role

The best thing about external development teams is that they can work independently. But to achieve that, you need to define their roles and responsibilities.

Having clarity on their roles gives individual team members direction. That means they know what they and everybody else needs to do.

This will prevent confusion that can lead to duplicate work or incomplete tasks.

You should discuss roles and responsibilities with the development team during onboarding, before they start work on the project. The best way to do this is with a statement of work (SOW).

An SOW is a document that lists all relevant project information for the development team. Here are the elements it should include:

What is included in statement of work for software development sow structure

Source: Relevant

An SOW gives you a complete picture of a project’s requirements—including the deliverables, milestones, and tasks needed to complete it.

With this as a guide, you’ll be able to determine the exact roles needed and assign them accordingly.

Once you’ve defined all the required roles, you should display them somewhere accessible so that everyone knows each others’ roles all the time.

This is also useful for members to know whom to approach when asking for approval or sending a deliverable.

You can use an internal knowledge base such as Basecamp for this purpose. For instance, you can list all the responsibilities in a document and post them to remind everyone.

Basecamp home screen

Source: PCMag

Alternatively, you can also use project management platforms like Asana or Trello to track the tasks of specific team members.

Whichever approach you use, it’s important to define your team roles clearly, so everyone moves as one cohesive unit.

Decide which collaboration tools to use

External development teams live and die by collaboration tools.

Using the right ones can propel a software project to success, while the wrong platform can lead to miscommunication that could delay or even fail the project.

Indeed, 29% of projects fail because of poor communication.

reasons for project failure

Source: Kissflow

Thus, it’s essential that you pick the right collaboration tools in coordination with your external development team.

Involving them in the selection process ensures they are happy with the selection and that they will use whatever tools you agree on.

When deciding on a collaboration tool, It’s important to consider three things—your situation, budget, and preferences.

The best method is to list all your communication needs, both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (non-real-time), and then shortlist tools for each.

Synchronous VS Asynchronous Communication

Source: Agile Organization Development

For instance, let’s say you want to hold weekly meetings with your remote team.

That would require a video conferencing platform, so you shortlist popular platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams.

Finally, because your team is already comfortable using Google Meet, you decide to go with that option.

Or, say you determine that simple project management is the way to go. In that case, you might opt to use Trello over Asana, as the former is more straightforward.

You should also consider how your tools would integrate with one another.

For example, if your team already uses Jira, you might consider using Confluence as your content repository because they work very well together.

Whichever tools you pick, it’s crucial to compromise with your external development team when needed.

Remember, they’ll be using these tools as much as you, so make sure they’re comfortable with them.

Have regular meetings with the external team

Holding regular meetings with your external team is essential if you want your project to succeed.

Because a remote team isn’t physically with you, open and frequent communication is essential to keep track of their progress.

It also helps you catch issues early before they become more serious.

However, you should also keep in mind that meetings can do more harm than good if you’re holding them for the wrong reasons, making them unnecessarily long or conducting them with the wrong approach.

Just look at these statistics:

meeting statistics

Source: Wellable

Here are a few tips to keep in mind to maximize the effectiveness of your meetings and avoid the pitfalls.

First is always to set the purpose of the meeting. Will it be a weekly catch-up? Or is there a key problem the team needs to discuss? Avoid holding a meeting when a simple email will suffice.

Also, be sure to prepare the agenda of the meeting in advance. That way, people can better prepare and engage during the meeting.

Lastly, try to keep meetings to 30 minutes or less. If more things are left to discuss, consider setting up a new meeting with only the relevant parties involved.

Remember, don’t hold meetings just for the sake of it. Have a clear agenda in mind before going in. That sends the message that you respect everyone’s time.

Get to know the external development team

Far too many clients treat an external development team as just another service provider. But getting to know the team and genuinely connecting with them can have many benefits.

The best outcome is that it’ll create a positive working environment that promotes better collaboration and teamwork.

Indeed, 94% of business owners agree that a healthy culture is critical for success.

It also makes the team feel they’re part of the company, not just outsiders. And this sense of belongingness can improve your team’s overall productivity by 56%.

employees with a strong sense of belonging report a 56 higher level of overall job performance

Source: BetterUp

Arguably, the best way to get to know your external team is to meet them in person. Flying into their location shows that you care enough to make the trip.

In addition, you can also see their work culture firsthand.

Of course, visiting your team isn’t always feasible. But here are some tips to help you connect with your external team, even if it’s just virtually.

A simple tip is encouraging everyone to turn on their video during meetings and calls. Seeing the face of the person on the other line can create a human connection.

Second, schedule water cooler meetings where you can talk about things outside work.

Or, if you don’t have the time, create Slack channels on special interest topics like sports and hobbies.

Lastly, try to host virtual team-building activities. Not only are they fun, but they could also improve work ethic and innovation by up to 10 times.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when hosting an online team building.

Team Building Activities Best Practices

Source: Springworks

The bottom line is that an external team is just as crucial as your in-house developers.

You can dramatically improve their productivity and work quality by making them feel welcome and connected.

Have your own test plan in place

Even if your external development team plans to test your software project, it’s also best to have your own testing procedures.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you don’t trust your external developers. However, it’s a fact that even the best developers make mistakes. Just look at Google and their Nest mishap.

With that in mind, it doesn’t hurt to have a second test plan to double-check your external team’s work.

acceptance testing in Test Life Cycle

Source: Knoldus

Briefly, a test plan describes the various test cases you’ll perform to evaluate your software from multiple angles.

It ensures that every aspect of your software is thoroughly tested and ready for deployment.

Running your own tests also gives the benefit of different perspectives. That gives you a better chance of spotting things your external development team might’ve missed.

Indeed, testing is a complex topic that deserves a page of its own. For further reading, check out our articles on the software testing life cycle and different testing methods.

The best tip—start with the right team!

Getting the right team from the get-go is one surefire way to succeed with outsourcing.

Of course, that begs another question—how do you pick the right team?

Well, you can check our excellent article here for tips on choosing the right external development team.

Or you can consider DECODE!

We have tons of successful projects, a team of 70+ skilled software professionals, and a string of happy clients under our belt.

Interested in how we can make a difference in your next project? Schedule a consultation session with us today, and let’s talk!

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Written by

Marin Luetic


A seasoned software engineering executive, Marin’s role combines his in-depth understanding of software engineering processes (particularly mobile) with product and business strategies. Humbly boasting 20+ years of international experience at the forefront of telecoms, Marin knows how to create and deliver state of the art software products to businesses of all sizes. Plus, his skills as a lifelong basketball player mean he can lead a team to victory. When he’s not hopping from meeting to meeting, you’ll find Marin listening to indie rock, or scouring the latest IT news.

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