Successful Software Engineering Subcontracting – Part I

So you have reached a decision that you need to subcontract out some aspect of the software engineering required for your latest project. This blog forms the first part of a series of blogs, where we seek to outline some simple steps to ensure the success of any subcontracted software engineering project.

The decision to subcontract may have been taken for a myriad of reasons; a lack of internal resources, a skills gap within your internal team, time pressures and so forth, but now that decision has been reached, how do you go about ensuring that you do not come to regret that decision?

When done right, working with a subcontract partner organisation can bring a number of benefits, among them:

• shorter time to market;
• controlled costs and improved productivity;
• utilisation of the partner’s domain expertise and improved internal processes and quality as a result;
• reduced risk, or at least the transfer of risk away from your organisation.

So how do you ensure that these benefits are realised, and your project does not become a failure?

Although subcontracted software engineering projects are, by their nature, often complex technological undertakings, it is normally not the technology that contributes to late or over budget deliveries. Invariably, the problems that occur are due to management and communications issues. This and the following blogs in this series will examine some of those potential pitfalls.

Knowing what you want?

What you want may only exist as a vague idea in your head or as a well-defined requirements document or specification. All projects have a level of risk associated with them, and the severity of this risk is what any subcontractor will factor into their quote.

Poorly defined requirements can lead to misinterpretation, requirements creep or a number of other outcomes that all lead to increased risk for the subcontractor and ultimately, you, the client.

By including the subcontractor in the requirements process, substantial risk can be mitigated at a very early stage. This could simply be having the subcontractor review documentation that you have produced, before they issue a formal quote for the work.

The better defined the project, then the lower the risk, which will manifest itself in a number of ways and not necessarily in headline monetary terms. Whilst the price may be reduced if risk can be addressed, it may also result in such things as:

• a firm delivery date;
• reduced support costs; or
• an extended warranty period.

Any of which may be of much greater importance to the success of a project than merely a reduced price.

In the next part we will examine the role of effective communication between both parties.