Making the Best of Your External Team: The Risks and Benefits of Remote Development

An external team can be the silver bullet for businesses that need to augment their development resources and fill in gaps in expertise and stay on budget.

Software Development

Choosing to entrust your project to a remote team from a third-party software development company can feel like a big step if you’ve built solutions with your local resources before. It’s natural for first-timers to have misgivings about accountability, changes in requirements, missed deadlines, etc. However, in many cases remote development emerges as the optimal path and you have to strike a balance between caution and advantage to achieve your business goals.

The following overview of benefits and risks of remote development can support your decision-making as you hire and manage your own external team.

Four core benefits of the remote development model

Shorter time to market

Multitasking is a nice skill to have, but when it comes to time-constrained projects, a remote team can do the job much faster without losing in quality. Just as in-house developers are well-suited for handling internal issues as they come up, remote teams excel with a clearly defined scope. Be it an MVP for a startup or a new complex feature for an existing solution, you’re more likely to meet a tight deadline where all brains are working towards a common goal.

Hiring rare talent

When a project requires expertise that can’t be found within your company — and you don’t expect a similar need to arise on the regular basis — it makes sense to outsource recruiting and personnel management. With dedicated development, you get access to a huge pull of technical talent available right now and no combination of skills is too niche.

Project cost mitigation

A remote team with an easy-to-follow pricing system is the most cost-effective solution for businesses that want to avoid paying high local wages. You can leverage the same, or higher, degree of expertise at a smaller price and achieve a higher ROI with less hassle. Remote engagement also allows you to save big on recruiting, personnel management, and infrastructure, with the bulk of these expenses handled by the software development company that provides the remote team.

Team flexibility

The remote engagement model lends itself well to changes in requirements, especially in combination with an agile development methodology. You can start the project early without a rigidly defined scope, add or remove features along the way, and quickly scale the team with external resources whenever you need additional capacity.

Managing risks in remote development

As we mentioned above, external development teams come with a number of caveats. Let’s examine some of potential difficulties and the measures that can be taken to avoid them.

Lack of visibility and control

With the team working offsite, lack of oversight and poor transparency can lead to snowballing issues such as technical debt and budget overrun. But working with an external team doesn’t have to mean lax stakeholder control. Here are a few things you can do to ensure predictability and accountability:

  • Pay close attention to the terms and conditions of your contract
  • Define project milestones and KPIs as clearly as possible
  • Set and track important team performance metrics using industry-standard tools
  • Run frequent project health checks, such as progress updates and demos
  • Perform regular independent audits

Lapses in communication

Things like cultural differences and asynchronous operation in different time zones with few cross-over hours between teams can provoke communication delays and misunderstandings. In a fast-paced environment when changes need to be implemented quickly, miscommunication can cost you dearly. How do you keep everyone on track?

  • Insist on frequent communication — via video, if necessary
  • Document the results of every meeting to stay on the same page
  • Give conclusive, meaningful feedback to the team as often as possible
  • Hire a product owner you can trust to align the remote team’s efforts with your vision

Knowledge transfer and confidentiality issues

Remote teams might need to access the client’s internal information or make changes to the existing infrastructure, which can lead to confidentiality breaches. Mission-critical information can also fall through the cracks when experienced members leave the project or the entire team is disbanded after it’s complete. What can be done to protect the integrity of your business?

  • Work out a knowledge transfer strategy early in the project
  • Make the team document all deliverables such as code, architecture, and test cases
  • Prepare a comprehensive intellectual property policy and NDA, including personal NDAs with team members
  • Maintain active two-way communication between your teams with an emphasis on mentoring

Summing up

An external team can be the silver bullet for businesses that need to augment their development resources and fill in gaps in expertise and stay on budget. At the same time, stakeholders need to go in fully aware not just of the advantages, but of the risks they will be taking under this model of cooperation. Remote development does not mean fully autonomous development, and success depends on both sides bringing in their fair share of work.