Offshore projects can be a nightmare with the wrong offshore team and mismatched expectations. By “offshoring”, I’m talking about getting small business projects completed through sites such as oDesk or Freelancer – not corporate offshore team management. There’s an assumption that “offshoring is cheaper” – it often is, but not always. Let’s look at some of the things that can go wrong in offshore projects –

  • Communication problems and language barriers
  • Project takes significantly longer than expected
  • Offshore contractor disappears mid-project
  • Offshore contractor misrepresents himself – claims are often harder to verify with regards to education and past experience.

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Before deciding to offshore, ask whether it’s appropriate for this particular project, or whether you’re just expecting it to be cheap. Does your project have a time sensitive deadline? What happens if the project isn’t completed on time or at all? Is that something you can live with or will that cause unacceptable loss?

When working with contractors, assess their level of communication, ability to understand and follow through on instructions, and ability to complete a short trial. I’m not usually interested in degrees, courses or awards that the contractor claims. They are often too hard to validate, and don’t really provide any assurance that my job is going to get done well, which is ultimately all I’m concerned with. There are plenty of institutions online offering degrees, MBAs and diplomas and unfortunately, cheating in online exams is rife – sitting exams for other people, googling answers or phoning friends mid exam.

  • Set up small stages and hold the contractor accountable at each stage. Don’t let the project derail further and further by allowing deadlines to slip and by accepting substandard work.
  • Get advice! If you’re hiring a programmer, and you’re not a programmer yourself, perhaps consider an independent programming manager. You don’t want to get stuck with either poor work that doesn’t function, or worse, poor work that does function. You’re just delaying a full rebuild in the future, and you’re now sitting on a liability.
  • Monitor regularly! Don’t micromanage but keep a close eye. Is the contractor completing your work the person you hired, or has it been subcontracted out further at an even cheaper rate? Is the contractor working in the way you’ve specified or in his own way?

Offshore contracting can be cheap and can be efficient. It can also be an expensive disaster. Assess your project, and assess a range of outsourcing options before going down the offshore route simply because it seems cheaper!