How to Handle Internal Pushback When You Outsource a Software Build


Many executives can visualize the software their organizations need to meet their business goals. Realizing that vision, however, may require hiring an outside software development team.

Bringing in outside developers can lead to conflicts. Outsourcing dev work can also enhance a company’s ability to meet customer needs while continuing to grow and expand its offerings.

For a successful collaboration with a third-party development team, communication, clarity and coordination are a must.


Communicate Early and Often

A strong communication strategy is a must for coordinating in-house and outside teams to complete and launch a software project.

According to Luiza Nunes and James Lewis at ThoughtWorks, good project communication does the following:

  • Ensures everyone has the information they need at each stage of the project.
  • Enables team members to ask questions or raise issues when needed.
  • Reduces bottlenecks by allowing teams to plan for problems faced by other teams.
  • Presents problems to the right parties for earlier resolution. 

When bringing in an outside software developer, clear communication of every participant’s responsibilities is a must. Sharing the overall vision for the project is likewise vital, Ling Wong at Workzone writes.

By understanding the common goal, internal and external teams understand where to place their efforts. They’re better able to focus on the issues and tasks that stand between them and the goal, and they’re less likely to inadvertently interfere with one another’s progress toward that goal.

Good communication may be particularly vital to software projects because of the nature of software development and testing.

Researchers Bjørnar Tessem and Jon Iden state that well-defined roles for each participant in a software development project can help reduce confusion. Clear communication, including access to error logs and other necessary data, can also help curb frustration and keep each team member on track. Such communication, in turn, may help to reduce lost productivity on the project itself.

Sam Hunt, vice president of sales for the Asia-Pacific region at GitHub, encourages businesses to break down information silos and share collaboration and resources across teams. Doing so “effectively combines the ‘business brains’ of an organization (CIOs) with the ‘IT intelligence’ heads (developers),” Hunt writes.

A similar approach to communication and information-sharing can help prevent misunderstandings and build collaboration between in-house and outside dev teams. This communication, in turn, may result in a better final product.


Set Clear Metrics and Deadlines

“In the ideal R&D organization, responsibilities are clearly established, and interfaces between and among teams (internal and external) are seamless and transparent,” Anne Hidma, Sebastian Küchler and Vendla Sandström at McKinsey write.

The same may be said for an ideal collaboration between in-house and outside dev teams working on a software solution for the company. Strong communication provides a basis on which clear metrics and deadlines may be articulated. Those metrics and deadlines help to establish responsibilities, channel communication and clarify roles within the project.

One measurement that impacts many external software development projects is time. Here, outsourcing projects may help save time by keeping your core team focused on essential tasks while coordinating with a team of outside developers with expertise on projects like the necessary software build.

By laying out clear timelines and deadlines, internal teams can see exactly what to expect from an external developer and when to expect it. This clarity allows an internal team to better organize its own efforts. Those team members can focus on their own metrics and deadlines in order to ensure they’re prepared as the external team hits its own milestones.

Both in-house and third-party development teams benefit from clear measurements and deadlines. Clarity on goals and deadlines help team members see where their day-to-day tasks fit into the project as a whole, which can boost engagement and provide a sense of ownership.

Engagement and ownership, then, help drive the IT team’s energy in positive directions and away from potential resentment of an external team’s participation.

Resentment can become a major contributor to unhappiness for developers, notes Mark Locklear. For example, “In a previous position as a web developer, I worked with a senior engineer that I REALLY disliked,” Locklear writes. “This team member would almost never let a pull request or design decision go unchallenged.”

Eventually, the frustration forced Locklear to take a new approach to the engineer, but the change required energy that Locklear could have channelled into the project itself.


Solve for the Experts in the Room Problem

When an organization seeks the help of outside developers for a software project, it may run the risk of bruising egos or unnecessarily duplicating work done by its own in-house software experts. Clear communication and program milestones can help keep these teams focused on their own work, as can understanding certain key challenges to coordinating internal and external software teams.


The Buck Stops Here: Assigning a Leader

Assigning a leader or manager to the program as a whole can help reduce conflicts and keep a project moving, Nunes and Lewis write. The assigned leader can smooth communication between in-house and outside teams, stay on top of relevant metrics and information, and manage any problems that arise.

“It’s important to make sure the responsibilities of the role are made explicit to everyone involved, preferably at the program kickoff,” Nunes and Lewis write. Make sure the leader or manager’s duties do not overlap with the duties of anyone on the in-house or outsourced dev teams.

Leaders can also take on some of the tasks involved in developer relationships. For example, the right leader can help ensure that teams working on the project are heard within the organization, whether those teams are internal or external.

“You can imagine bringing stories from the field into the walls of the building,” showing company leadership how people are interacting with the software, say Orbit founders Josh Dzielak, Patrick Woods and Dustin Larimer.


Take Problems As They Come

When aligning internal teams with a third-party team of developers, it is essential to take each team’s coordination needs as they come, rather than assuming similar teams will automatically have similar needs.

According to a June 2020 study by researchers Aivars Sablis, Darja Smite and Nils Moe, published in the Journal of Software: Evolution and Processes, “even in the same project, teams may have different expertise and work coordination needs.”

Those researchers found that even when teams are working on the same software build or the same codebase, they may need help with different aspects of the project or with coordinating their efforts with other teams. By taking each issue as it comes, team members and leaders can better position themselves to give each team what it needs to coordinate with others, without wasting undue time attempting to anticipate issues that may never occur.

It’s not always easy to coordinate the work of in-house teams with third-party developers. By focusing on communication and transparency, clarifying every participant’s responsibilities and helping teams work together, companies can harness the best of both worlds: Gaining the benefits of an outside development team’s experience while also keeping their own teams focused on the work they do best.

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