April 20, 2011

Questions to Ask Your Outsourcer

If you’re considering an IT outsourcing relationship, you probably have many concerns and questions. Here is a list of over 60 questions you may want to consider. Not every one of these questions needs to be asked, not all may be relevant to your situation, and your outsourcing candidate may not be able to answer them all, but this is a good place to start evaluating potential partners. We’ve organized the questions into a few sections.

Initial Screening questions

How long has the outsourcer been in business? Generally, the longer the better.

What pricing structure does the outsourcer offer and how does it compare with the competition? Price is important, but certainly not the only issue. Ask about pricing models that work for you and look for flexibility and detailed explanations of policy.

What physical security, data security and intellectual property protection methods does the outsourcer provide? Lots can be said here. Separate buildings are best with controlled access. Look for compatible and sensible IT process and policies for employees, and ask lots of questions.

What does a typical project startup phase look like? Find out how projects get going and see if you like how the outsourcer explains things to you.

How does outsourcer demonstrate they can provide the right technical experience needed for my project? Ask technical questions and look for relevant experience. Check references.

What is the turnover rate and how does the outsourcer retain employees? Low single digit turnover is best. If it’s more, find out why.

What does the commitment to a long term partnership look like? Find out what the outsourcer’s commitment is to you and your business, ask for examples and check references.

What similar projects has the outsourcer done? A good way to gauge possible success is to ask for examples of projects similar to yours and see how the candidate responds to your questions.

Is the work product created all “work for hire”? If you’re paying for it, you should expect “work for hire” without exception.

What project sizes does the outsourcer handle best? Outsourcing firms will best be able to handle certain size projects based on their size, experience, internal process, access to resources, etc.

How well does the outsourcer’s staff speak, read and write English? If your team expects to speak English, then check to make sure your partner can too.

How does the outsourcer hire and train new people? Look for recruiting techniques, ask about retention plans, training, classes, etc.

What kind of trust building exercises can the outsourcer provide? How does the outsourcer help you establish trust? Lots can be said here. Ask questions and see how they respond.

Can I visit my team any time I want? You should expect to be able to visit the outsourcers work place at your convenience.

Can I interview and select the team members myself? Some of you may find that you want to control the makeup of your team. Ask if you can do this. If not, find out why, and remember, an outsourcing relationship can work well whether or not you select your team.

Does the outsourcer provide insurance including errors and omissions insurance? The outsourcer should be able to be served legally in your country and carry insurance against general liability, and errors and omissions.

What are the credentials and experience of the outsourcers management team? Management is critical to being successful in any endeavor. Ask about your outsourcer’s management team and check them out.

Can the outsourcer provide access to global talent? If so, where and how? Find out how the outsourcer can provide you with access to people you could not otherwise find.

Can the outsourcer provide both local and offshore resources? There may be times or projects that require use of local resources. Can the outsourcer help you here?

Does the outsourcer follow local rules and regulations with regards to how it pays taxes, pays its employees and runs its business? Make sure all rules and regulations are followed. The last thing you want is to run into trouble that is not your making and that you have no control over.

Does the outsourcer have any complaints filed against it? Check out various agencies and search for telling information.

Can the outsourcer think creatively and work to really impress you? Make sure your partner is capable of highly creative independent work. You want your partner to work just like you do.

What kinds of mitigation strategies has the outsourcer put in place to reduce corruption, theft, etc? Ask about these unsavory issues and understand how the outsourcer has reduced or eliminated their impact.

How stable are the governments and countries you are considering outsourcing to? Depending on an outsourcer in a risky geopolitical location should give you pause. Check out the situation with your outsourcer before proceeding.

Engagement

How does the outsourced team engage with me? Find out how the outsourcer really intends to work with you.

How does the outsourcer learn about my business and integrate with my existing team? Will your outsourcer take time to learn how you work, what you do and how to work most effectively and efficiently with you?

Can the outsourcer’s team provide with both time and materials and fixed bid engagement styles? You may prefer one engagement style over another, so ask what your outsourcer can do, what they recommend you do and how flexible they are.

How do I protect myself from losing critical information if the outsourcer can no longer provide service to me? If for some reason your outsourcer can no longer provide you with service, how will you transition your IP, critical business knowledge and work product to a different team?

How do I communicate with my team at the outsourcer’s location? Find out what communication channels are available to you for communicating with all the team members.

What kind of engineering management expertise can the outsourcer provide? Your outsourcer should be able to provide the proper management to make sure you are successful.

What process and procedures does the outsourcer use? How are problems treated and resolved? Give examples. Ask what problems your outsourcer has encountered and what steps were taken to resolve them. Be wary if they tell you everything has gone 100% perfectly.

Does the outsourcer provide shadowing capability so vacations or staff loss can be covered effectively and rapidly? What other methods does the outsourcer use to provide immediate replacement of team members? Find out how unexpected reductions in staffing are handled and be aware of the tradeoffs in terms of cost, flexibility, etc.

How will the outsourcer handle concerns I may have about the performance of a specific team member? Find out how your outsourcer handles situations when you are not happy with a particular member of the outsourced team.

What kind of on-going training does the outsourcer provide to its employees? Ongoing training is important for many reasons. Ask how your outsourcer handles updating the skills of its employees. How honest and direct is the communication?

How are project issues handled especially when they affect budget or schedule? Questions about budget or schedule issues are often the most difficult ones to discuss and manage. Ask how your outsourcer handles these issues and ask for examples.

Can representatives of the outsourcer be contacted anytime during my regular work day? If your outsourcer is working in a time zone greatly different from yours, can they provide a way to ask and answer questions any time during your regular work day?

Can the outsourcers management team be available to me if needed? It’s good to be able to talk to the senior management from time to time. Ask if they are available and how they participate in your projects.

Does the outsourcer meet the requirements of any process standards organizations? You may feel more comfortable if your provider is compliant with standards such as CMM or ISO. Ask about their policies regarding process compliance.

Tools and Monitoring

What kinds of tools can the outsourcer provide to streamline projects and make them run as efficiently as possible? The use of tools to facilitate process improvements and general workflow can be critical. Find out what tools your outsourcer uses, how they use them and how they can integrate with your existing processes.

Does the outsourcer provide the option of a client portal for tracking and running projects effectively and efficiently? Email, office software, telephone and Skype may not be enough to properly run your project. Ask if the outsourcer has taken the management of project artifacts and communication to the next level through a secure client portal.

How can I be sure the outsourcer’s team is really working on my project and that I have the best possible people? You may be concerned about making sure your team is working for you and that you have truly great people. Ask how your outsourcer handles these issues.

What kinds of project artifacts does the outsourcer generate and how are these presented and tracked? Project artifacts are not only important for future teams and work, they are imperative for the proper handling of your project. Ask about the details of what data is generated during the running of your project and how that data is handled and communicated.

How accurate are time estimates generated by the outsourcing team and what does the outsourcer do to create accurate schedules? Ask about your candidate’s time-estimating ability and how the outsourcer creates schedules. These are critical skills for success.

How do I track what the outsourcer is doing and what is happening on a daily basis? Find out if you can see status on a daily basis. You need to feel comfortable that your project is running smoothly.

Consulting

Can the outsourcer provide me with help defining and managing my engineering process? You may already realize or discover along the way that the way you work can be improved. Can your outsourcer help you be creative and follow an engineering process that works for you?

Can the outsourcer help me with more than just implementing a spec? Can your outsourcer help you define your user experience, create artwork, test designs, figure out the proper technology stack, etc?

Process and Services

What engineering process variations can the outsourcer support? You may have a particular interest in Agile, RUP, spiral, waterfall or other process. Talk to your outsourcer about processes they support.

Can the outsourcer help me localize my product to a number of languages including EFIGS? Don’t forget to ask about internationalization and localization if those issues are pertinent to your product or service.

What kind of UX/UI design skills can the outsourcer provide? You may need expert help designing the user experience, the application’s information architecture, the visual layout of screens, etc. Find out if your outsourcer can support you.

Can the outsourcer test designs before implementation? Check if your outsourcer has the capability to test product designs with potential users, get feedback and make appropriate revisions.

Can the outsourcer provide maintenance and support for completed projects? You will most likely need to maintain and support your product or service once it is commercially available.

What kinds of SQA can the outsourcer provide? How does your outsourcer test engineering deliverables? Verify that your outsourcer can help you design test plans, handle load testing, and be creative in looking for obscure problems.

What does the outsourcer do to help me if my project is very complicated and my organization does not have the technical expertise to do the project ourselves? If you lack the internal ability to do the project you are considering outsourcing, you may have trouble describing to your outsourcer exactly what needs to be accomplished. Find out how the outsourcer can help you in this situation.

Can the outsourcer provide teams that are comprised of resources that are working in different locations? You may need resources in different locations. Find out if this is the case with your project and how the outsourcer works with geographically diverse teams.

What does the outsourcer do to ensure the fastest time to market? Time is critical for any business.

How does your outsourcer handle your desire to work quickly? Can the outsourcer provide me with top talent superstar developers? How? Many startups begin with a small team of top developers. Find out how your outsourcer will continue to supply you with great people as your project grows.

How does the outsourcer integrate new experiences into their process and service delivery? Find out how your outsource candidate turns experience into increased productivity and improved delivery.

Can the outsourcer provide services ranging from team augmentation to complete turnkey delivery? As you grow, your needs may change and you may run concurrent projects that engage using different styles. Find out if your outsourcer is compatible.

Internal Issues for Your Own Consideration

How do I rate my own organization’s ability to partner with other organizations and how can the outsourcer help me improve internally so partner style relationships will work effectively? Your internal organization will need to be able to work effectively with partners in order to be successful in an outsourcing relationship. Are you ready?

Do I know exactly what I want to do and can the outsourcer help me answer this question? If not, how does the outsourcer help me ask the right questions about my own goals and objectives? If you don’t know precisely what you want to build, it’s going to make it much harder to work with an outsourcer. Be honest about your knowledge and see how the outsourcer can help you.

What are my reasons for wanting to outsource in the first place? Make sure you understand why you want to outsource. Leveraging the experience and talent of another organization are two common reasons, but you may have others. Discuss these with your outsource candidates.