I’ve worked in agencies where web development is completed offshore. I won’t discuss the ethics here, but rather wanted to provide an overview of the key benefits, challenges and a few tips, to help you decide whether this resourcing approach is right for your studio or agency.

Benefits

  • Clearly cost is the major factor for deciding to offshore development. For $10 – $15 per hour, it’s incredibly cheap compared to local prices. Aside from the hourly rate, your operating and training costs are also reduced, which can be very attractive.
  • Offshore developers can be very flexible in my experience, particularly in some countries where the culture dictates one should not do or say anything to offend or displease another person. This flexibility is great, but you ought not exploit their goodwill by increasing the scope without offering something in return.

Challenges

  • Depending on where your offshore developers are located, the timezone difference can be a challenge. I’m working with people in Pakistan at the moment; they start work around 5pm our time, which means I either need to work into the evening to communicate with them in real time, or lose a day or two each time we send email back and forth. Make sure you allow longer timelines than usual to account for timezone differences.
  • Language can be a challenge if you’re working with people who speak English as a second language. Written messages can easily become misconstrued and cause problems if both parties are not careful. I’ve found offshore developers can also be very literal (ie they will do exactly what you ask, even if you are wrong!). Develop strong face to face relationships with your developers using Skype, have regular catchups and take the time make sure your instructions are understood.
  • Documentation needs to be much more detailed than if you’re working side by side with your development team. Sure, you should have detailed, current specifications anyway, but I’ve found you need to provide much more detail when working with offshore developers. Factor this into your quote from the outset.
  • Quality standards are not always as high as they are in Australia, particularly with regard to usability and accessibility. Make sure you articulate the standards required from the outset, and build in plenty of time for QA and testing.
  • As a result of each of the points listed above, you will spend more time managing offshore web development projects. Instead of the standard minimum 20% of the budget allocated to managing the project, you should double it.
  • And finally, don’t forget about your local team and how they will react to your decision to use offshore resources. Make sure your team are engaged and committed to working with offshore development partners.

I don’t think offshoring web development is right for every agency, nor is it right for every project. But it does have its benefits. Think carefully before leaping into this resourcing solution option.