2009.12.01 15:24:56
Susan Jackman

There are many cons to outsourcing work to India, and similar countries, as I'm sure my readers are well aware but I thought I'd take a moment to share with you my experience.  I don't like to blog about negative experiences but each and everyday I am bombarded by emails from companies located in India asking me to outsource work to them and it's time to take a public stance on this issue. The following is why I will never willingly use an over-seas outsourcing company if I have a choice.

This is a very touchy subject and while I may potentially scare away some of my readers or clients with this topic, I’m okay with that because I am standing up for what I believe in and I only wish to further foster relationships built on mutual understanding and shared values.

My last post entitled the biggest challenges a virtual team must face is a good place to start when discussing the negative impacts of outsourcing.  I will start with that and then share my own personal experience.  It is important for you to realize that my opinion on this topic is not just based on research but actual experiences as well.

I wrote that there are two big challenges faced by all teams. In-effective utilization or organization of timelines and poor communication.  These two issues work hand in hand against each other.  These issues are based on my experiences working on an international level and online with virtual teams, but these are even more relevant when it comes to working with third party companies located across the world.  That works in different rooms, floors, offices, and if any members are offsite completely.  The third major issue I added to the discussion in the last post, teamwork, or more accurately individuality, is blatantly apparent when working with outsourcing companies.

The key issues discussed where:

  • Navigating across time zones (rather than an 8 hour day virtual teams may be "operating" 24 hours a day, possibly 7 days a week)
  • Working across technology - use of different platforms and technology available from the location
  • Working across cultures and languages
  • Creating a shared vision for all team members
  • Nontraditional communication methodologies that may require equipping staff with enhanced skills in virtual communication

Communication Failure

Communication is a pretty obvious issue.  Without good communication between ALL members a million problems can surface and in the case of outsourcing, communication failure is inevitable.

Because non-verbal communication exists in the digital world, this means that misinterpretations will occur when it comes to your team’s communication. The others who read it can easily interpret the words that one person writes in an email differently. This problem increases when you have to interpret your client’s words through a third party company or visa-versa.

In business, effective communication is absolutely critical, and if team members are not able to properly communicate with each other, there is a good chance that the project will end in disaster.  This is most easily seen in outsourcing situations because of language barriers and cultural differences.  The second challenge, which is prevalent among virtual teams, is a reduced ability to construct relationships. With outsourcing, your team is made up of different companies and there is very little casual communication that exists among the members of the team.  This is true in any case where multiple companies are pulling together on a project, virtual or not. The same can be said when team members exist in different global locations.

Lack of clarity

Communication is more than just keeping the lines open, but also being as clear as possible.  While on one hand it is good to give details when asking someone to do something, it is equally as important to not overcomplicate something with unnecessary information.  Not only does a lack of clarity delay things getting done because it is necessary to go back and forth until everyone understands, but it also causes mistakes and misunderstandings.  This issue is magnified tenfold when dealing with an outsourcing company.

Another critical factor is communication skills. The team member should be able to communicate clearly, constructively, and positively even through the more limited channels of technology, in spite of the loss of many nonverbal cues of face-to-face communications.  This problem increases when dealing with team members of different nationalities and located in different parts of the world.

Distant Communication Complexity

While it may seam obvious to you that it’s only 2:00 PM and you can’t expect someone to do something for you in the next few hours with a quick email, when your working with an outsourcing company and have team members across the globe, your members are across many time zones.  Is your teammate sitting down to dinner, or out for some Friday night fun?  Perhaps you are in a later time zone and you are done for the day but they are just getting started.  Even if you feel like you have a good grasp of time expectations, these things will get in the way to a great extent when your team is not even operating in the same day let alone a workable time zone difference.  There is no way around the fact that this will create major slowdowns to the entire process.  If your in a hurry and have a deadline, which 99% of clients do, you will have to realize that your project will not be done acceptably in a timely manner. While it may be tempting to pick up the phone and just call for some quick clarification, rather than waiting till tomorrow for an answer, but you will be imposing on their personal time to do this.

To recap the concerns here are:

  • Language barriers
  • Time zone barriers
  • Cultural barriers
  • Timeline expectations

Each member will need adequate time to deliver his or her responsibilities and delays from one person with affect to the next person in line. The timeline issue refers to problems like, late submissions, assumptions that someone else will wait till the last minute to receive your submission, delays do to human error or unforeseen circumstances, not allowing adequate time for feedback, and in general not doing things in a timely manner.  If everyone puts their tasks off to the last minute there isn’t any time left for the team to give feedback or the team members to revise their work. The person at the end of the line, usually the developer or project manager, gets the short end of the stick.  Delays will happen and it is to be expected, but the deadline must move forward to compensate for unforeseen delays.  When the outsourcing company makes mistakes, which they will, you will loose days trying to fix them, if not weeks.

Individuality and Trust.  There is no “I” in TEAM.

This may not be the best word to describe this so perhaps a more elaborate description would be appropriate here.  What I am talking about is a lack of teamwork as a result of members only looking after their own interests.  This will surface more in a situation where the team members are not individuals so much as they are different companies working together for one client.  For example you may have a design firm creating the designs for the client and a different company, often outsourced, doing the programming.  The more different companies you add to the mix the more complicated it all gets.  These companies will make mistakes and often not take responsibility for them.  Sometimes different team members may have different expectations about what part they play or what tasks they should do and time can be lost when they hit grey areas or assume it’s someone else’s job to do a specific task.  These companies will only be looking out for their companies own interest and staying in the good favor of the client, which means blaming mistakes on you and very often unscrupulous tactics to steel your client from you in order to get more business in this tough economy.

One of the biggest challenges in this situation is building and maintaining trust between the team members. Trust is critical for unblocking communication problems between members and sustaining motivation of each person involved. The issue of trust needs to be paid special attention at any stage of team existence.

Knowing your place

So once again, clear communication becomes crucial and the project manager needs to be the center of communication.  The client really needs to send all communication through the project manager and resist the urge to deal with different parts of the team separately. There is an old saying, the right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing and the more hands you have the more important this is. However, I have yet to have a client in this situation that can understand the importance of this rule and outsourcing companies understand this even less. These companies operate on we can do it all mentalities and have little respect for American business and especially professional women.  I don’t know why but many years of experience tell me this is true. 

It may be tempting for the design firm to go directly to the client with questions to save time, and this is a very natural thing to do, but in the long run this will not save time.  The outsourcing companies are not trained to operate the same way we are.  If the designer then makes changes to the site and that say the programmer does not know about, or visa-versa, work may be lost, the other party may assume it’s a mistake and change it back, or any number of similar issues which will make that one task take three-times longer to complete.  The project manager absolutely needs to always know what’s going on if they are going to be effective and keeping things running smoothly and efficiently. Between the outsourcing company, the client, and any other number of outside influences, this is extremely difficult to do effectively.

Touchier subject manner

This is where my experience, opinions, and those of many web designers and developers across the country come into play.  The outsourcing companies work on the following business model:

  • We can do it (although not well)
  • We are cheep (very attractive to the client)
  • We are quick (resulting in sloppy work and mistakes)
  • We are trained (very different from educated, they do not work with current methods and technology but rather outdated methodologies and have no respect or desire to learn or follow our web standards)

Why should this matter?

Every designer and developer reading this will immediately understand these statements but for clients and hobbyist here’s a little explanation…

Outsourcing companies are trained to do a “little” of everything.  They do not focus on specific skills and develop them to become better at their job.  Design firms, and multimedia studios hire different individuals to do the tasks that they excel at which means you get a project that is done the best that it can.  Because the outsourcing employees receive minimal training in many aspects of projects they are not especially good at any aspect.  This is most obvious in design.  Designers focus years of their education and enough money to buy a home on their education of design.  The results are not even comparable.  Because they have focus their education on one thing, design, they are not just better at it, but they are more efficient which means less mistakes.  Because the outsourcing company will make many mistakes you will spend more and more time trying to fix them and in the long run, it will cost you more.  They are also trained to give you an unbelievably low quote, which attracts many clients, but all those mistakes will add up to more and more cost, or you’ll get what you pay for and be left with shoddy, half done, work your ashamed to show the world, rather than having someone work on your project, which is likely a big investment for you, that takes pride in their work and is upfront and honest about the cost.

So as you can probably tell by now I am feeling a little resentful at the idea of outsourcing.  My experiences over the years in this?

  • I have not been given the respect that my education and experience deserve.
  • I have had to take the fall for their mistakes and shoddy work.
  • I have lost opportunities for jobs because or their low-ball pricing.
  • I have had outsourcing companies that sabatoshed my relationship with my clients and outsourcing companies that went behind my back and stole my clients.
  • I have witnessed first hand the outdated, sloppy, buggy, unprofessional work that they produce.
  • I have picked up the pieces for MANY clients that where screwed over by these outsourcing companies that where left high and dry with much less than they paid for or needed. Ultimately this just makes for very defensive, pessimistic clients and makes the real professionals have to work very hard to restore their trust in the web industry as a whole.
  • Many of these companies try to fool Americans stating they are an American company and stress they are not located in India, by giving themselevs an American address and phone number but if you read the fine print, their team is in India or similar countries.

So, to wrap it up...

If your an outsourcing company do not contact me, I am not interested. You go against the most important principle that my company was founded on, that the client deserves the best quality work, dedicated service, and a fair and honest pricing structure.

If your a designer or developer, or even a client, please share your experiences. Just keep it annonymous, if you do not have enough respect for any given client or companies privacy I will delete your comment.

Any questions, comments ?

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