First Line's Blog

This is the first in a series of posts discussing how Scrum improves chances of outsourcing success and cuts costs through discipline, transparency and tighter integration between customer and provider.

It is no secret that many outsourcing projects fail. In our daily practice, we encounter many customers who have had very negative experiences with outsourced development, and many times the negativity tends to focus on the customer’s lack of visibility into the real status of the project, or on the lack of understanding between the in-house organization and the offshore team, or both. Simply put, the customer and the provider are not on the same page.

To counter the risks of outsourcing, every CIO or VP of Software Development has to tackle at least 3 big issues:

  • Shared Understanding / Knowledge: How do I make sure my supplier understands exactly what I need, and that their team is building the software that will actually solve my problem and realize specific business value for my company?
  • Management Overhead: Since offshore teams require more oversight than in-house teams, how do I make sure that all the extra money I’m spending on managing my offshore supplier does not exceed what I plan to save by using cheaper resources in the first place?
  • Transparency and Control: How do keep my outsourced project from becoming a black box? How do I make sure that the projects are on track and will be delivered on time? If there are problems, how do I make sure that I know about them as soon as possible to be able to make corrective changes?

All these make outsourcing sound like a difficult proposition, and it is. However, there is a way to mitigate all these risks through a disciplined approach that sheds light inside the black box of offshoring.

Scrum in an outsourced project

In our experience, thoughtful application of the principles of Scrum together with some common sense metrics and management techniques can produce the shared understanding, the streamlined efficiency and the transparency customers need to succeed in outsourcing. 

Our client, a large publishing and media company initiated a comprehensive program of consolidating over 60 of its online publications onto a single state-of-the-art content management system (CMS). The platform chosen for the program was EPiServer, one of the world’s faster growing CMS products. Since the program schedule was quite demanding, and the internal resources were not going to be sufficient to complete all the work in time, the client decided to outsource some of the development work. First Line was chosen as one of the external suppliers.

The program consisted of a series of projects dealing with creating the standardized content management platform (based on EPiServer CMS) and with building specific newspapers’ and magazines’ websites with custom components tailored to their respective unique characteristics, content, and audiences. First Line was first selected in early 2010 as one of the two suppliers on the program, which eventually lasted over 2 years and involved over 150 offshore resources.

In the interests of productivity, the client suggested using a variation of Scrum adapted for the distributed nature of the program. The projects would run in 1- or 2-week sprints, with a demo for stakeholders after each sprint. The overall scheme of things looked something like this (see diagram).

Continued in Part II


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