Adding new team members, in-house, contractors, or third-party vendors, can be disruptive to your team. Adding new team members is all about increasing velocity and/or expertise but the time it takes to onboard and train new team members often exacerbates the problem before solving it.
From experience, I have found that no matter how big or small your product team is, you will encounter a lot of the same issues every time, especially if you are working with an offshore/nearshore vendor. Take these 10 tips into account to improve the experience for your team and your company:
1. Onboarding always takes longer than expected:
It will always amaze you how much time it takes to get the new team access to everything they need to work and communicate with your internal team. Generally, we do what's called "sprint 0" which is at least a full sprint solely dedicated to just to getting up and running. This keeps expectations in check and ensures any work done is done with focus and the least amount of roadblocks possible.
2. Perform code reviews/QA with your offshore software development team :
For your offshore software development teams, build in the time to do best practices and have your internal team do a code review of new code from your new vendor. If you are not already doing this with your internal team, consider adding this step to your process for them too. After this is done, even if the vendor has QA and does their own, do a second round of QA on all of their new code before it enters production. Don't assume you can just inject your new team members' code into your product after the first sprint and it won't cause issues or is structured how you want it to be. Over time you can evaluate these practices and reduce checks but only after you establish expectations and build good communication with your new team members.
3. Build trust over time:
The less access and complex tasks you give your new team, the less time you'll spend fixing things if they make mistakes. Make the first few sprints simple with fewer mission-critical tasks and slowly add more responsibility as you build trust. This is true for any new team member. Remember, it may seem like you're moving slowly in the beginning but the more time your take to onboard, the better your results will be in the long term and you'll soon reach your desired output with fewer setbacks along the way.
4. Let their product manager do the work:
You should consider your in-house product management team the brain and their product manager or project manager the hands. Again, start slow and show the new PM how you want their work done but eventually hand them more responsibility than you think you should. If they are dedicated to your team, they can take care of tasks like writing tickets for your approval and organizing the backlog. This frees your product management team up to focus on other parts of their role. Sometimes the vendor's PM can really relieve a lot of pressure from your product management team to focus on the bigger picture and get ahead of design and development.
5. Make sure they produce reporting:
One benefit of working with a vendor for your design and software development is that they will likely track their output and velocity better than internal software teams. This is because their work is more direct dollars for service than a SaaS-based tech company. As your partner vendor, they should want to prove their value throughout the engagement so make sure they produce reporting on their velocity for their entire team plus any project management activities. This generally should be shared at the end of each sprint so you know what you are getting for your money.
6. Culture and time zones:
The more you integrate the offshore team into your company, the better long-term partner they will be. While you will save on many activities associated with managing and coaching team members in your internal team, there is no reason not to treat these team members like anyone else in the company. Now, remembering where they are working from and learning their culture and traditions will go a long way for your relationship. Make a shared calendar so you know what holidays and days off look like for the offshore team and make sure you know what your overlapping working hours are so you can schedule meetings in those time spans. Ideally, you want to wake up each day to new code/tickets/designs/solutions, and that comes with good communication and unblocking their path the day before.
If you add many new team members via an offshore team your output will increase and with it the amount of information being created by people new to your organization. Regardless of if you have good internal documentation practices or not, make sure your offshore team is documenting what they are producing. Obviously, store this with the rest of your documentation but make sure they make it clear how things were built, and where they can be found so your internal team or another vendor can understand their work down the road.
8. Embed their team with yours:
As mentioned, I can't stress enough how important it is to integrate these new team members with yours. If you are really committed to this approach to scaling, finding the right vendor and building a long-term relationship will pay for itself and still be cheaper than hiring in-house. While you want to hold them responsible like any vendor, the more you integrate an outsourced team the more they can contribute to not only producing code/designs, etc, they can actually become a strategic partner. Make sure they join as many ceremonies and planning meetings as possible and give them room to offer their own solutions. Having all of this new talent and experience in your team can generate innovation your internal team might have missed and the more integrated the vendor feels, the better results you will get from their sense of shared mission and values. Invite them to join company virtual events and participate in the broader company functions as time permits.
9. Improve your internal practices:
Having a new group join your product team will highlight weaknesses in your internal team's processes and expose the shorthand your team has developed. You'll need to do things like improve documentation, be more clear and communicative with requirements and feedback, and train on standard operating procedures that your internal team has understood and taken for granted. Embrace these hurdles when the new team points them out so you can improve your internal team and make onboarding more efficient for new team members, offshore or internal.
Communication becomes paramount for your internal dev leads, design leads, and PMs in this new working environment (it should have been before with your internal team, but you'll feel it when it's not working more now than ever). The offshore team will learn about your processes and expectations but they can't read your mind so over-communicate in all forms to ensure you have a smooth, efficient experience with the new group.
Having a new team join is a great opportunity to start creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) which can be used for adding more vendor team members or more in-house hires in the future. Again, take the time to write out exactly how you want something done, like writing a ticket, showing the new person where/how/and when, and including new steps like passing along the work for approval from the internal team. It might seem tedious but it will pay off when the work gets done the way you want it the first time and it takes less time to onboard the next person. You might also find redundancies and mistakes in your current process along the way. You can also use tools like https://scribehow.com/ or https://www.tango.us/ to make this even easier and more visual.
Adding an offshore team to your internal product development team will be disruptive, it will take a long time to see the full benefits of this approach but if you have patience, take the time to onboard, and adjust your communication approach, it will pay off. That being said, remember to fail fast. If you see red flags from your new team, address them immediately. If something is not meeting your expectations, be blunt and explain exactly what you want to see change. It's a fine line between taking the time to see the relationship build versus doubling down with a poor vendor. Make sure you focus on the original goal of the exercise: scaling your team in an efficient, cost-effective way that helps you hit your company's goals.
You can learn more about Torch Digital Lab's offshore team services here, reach out if you want to consult us about scaling your company's resources.