In-house vs Outsource

In-house vs Outsource

Picture this: you’ve recently been hired as the CIO of a start-up company.  You’ve been tasked with producing the core software that will serve as the lynchpin for allowing the company’s business concept to soar and create disruption in the market.  (Think Amazon, Facebook, or Uber.)  Lots of excitement combined with a huge amount of pressure to deliver.  You’ve got many decisions to make, not the least of which is whether or not to build an in-house team to develop the core system or to outsource it to a software development consultancy. So, how do you decide and to whom do you turn to if you do opt to outsource?

CC Pace is one of the software development consultancies that a company might turn to as we focus in the start-up market. Developing greenfield systems for an innovative new company is an environment that our development team members greatly enjoy.

A question that has been posed to me fairly frequently is: why  would a start-up company outsource their software development? While I had my own impressions, I decided to pose the question to some CIOs of the start-up companies we’ve worked with, along with some CEOs who ultimately signed-off on this critical decision.

The answers I received contained a common theme –  neither approach is necessarily better, and the proper decision depends on your specific circumstances.  With some of these circumstances being inter-related , here are the 4 primary factors that I heard the decision should depend on:

  1. Time-to-Market – It takes time to assemble a quality team, often up to 6 months or more.  Even then, it will take some additional time for this group to jell and perform at its peak.  As such, the shorter the time-to-market that the business needs to have the initial system delivered, the more likely you would lean toward an outsourced approach.  Conversely, if  there is less time sensitivity, it makes sense to put in an in-house team.  This team will be able to not only deliver the initial system, but they will also be able to handle future support and development needs without requiring a hand-off.
  2. Workload Peak – For some new businesses, the bulk of the system requirements will be contained in the initial release(s) while others will have a steady, if not growing, stream of desired functionality.  If the former, hiring up to handle the initial peak workload and then having to down-size is not desirable and can be avoided with the outsourced model.  On the other hand, a steady stream of development requirements for the foreseeable future would cause you to lean towards building an in-house team from the start.
  3. Availability of Resources – While there is a scarcity of good IT resources seemingly everywhere, certain markets are definitely tighter than others.  In addition, some CIOs have a greater network of talent that they know and could more easily tap than others.  The scarcer your resource availability, the more likely you would lean in calling upon outsourced providers.  Conversely, if you have ready access to quality talent, take advantage of that asset.
  4. CIO Preference – Finally, some CIOs just have a particular preference of one approach over the other.  This may simply be a result of how they’ve worked predominately in the past and what’s been successful for them.  So, going down a path that’s been successful is a logical course to take. Interestingly, one CEO commented that his decision in choosing a CIO would be that person’s ability to make these types of decisions based upon the business needs and not personal preference.

I would love to hear from anyone who has been (or will be) involved in this type of decision either from the start-up side or the consulting provider side, as to whether this jives with your experience and thinking. The one variable that wasn’t mentioned by anyone as a factor was cost.  That surprised me a lot and I’d also welcome any of your thoughts as to why this wasn’t mentioned as a factor.

Uber. Eight years ago, the company did not exist and the word was simply a rarely used adjective of German origin meaning “ultra”, like an uber intellectual. Today, Uber has become one of the most successful startups in history and the word has become a commonplace verb in English parlance. Transcending to “verb” status puts Uber in the highly exclusive class of innovative business disrupters like Google and FedEx whose business names and processes have become synonymous with an action that didn’t previously exist but is now done on a regular basis.  Who today wouldn’t understand what actions you had taken if you said, “I quickly googled the address for the nearest drop-off spot and uber-ed over there so I could fed-ex my package out on time”?

Uber owns no cars, has no drivers, and has minimal fixed assets. Instead, they created an incredibly user-friendly software that improves aspects of the taxi ride industry we didn’t know needed improvement. Not surprisingly, the full legal name is Uber Technologies, Inc.  While the only technologies typically found in traditional taxi cabs are the decades old meter clicking away the increments of the cost of your ride, the Uber software provides new value to both the driver and the customer with useful information such as the location of both the driver and the customer, time estimate for pick-up, exact pricing, car options, driving directions, and much more.

By creating this simple way to get a ride, Uber has reached another pinnacle accomplishment whereby the creativity of its business model has become a noun: uber-fication.  According to Dr. Paul Marsden in his Reading Room article, The Uberfication of Everything, “…the real genius of Uber lies in a deep understanding of convenience – what it is and why it matters.  That’s what Uberfication is all about; pivoting your business to deliver on a core under-exploited consumer need – convenience”.

One thing that every startup has is a dream and a vision. But, let’s be honest, that simply isn’t enough to successfully build a booming new business like Uber. You need the right partners, you need money, and you need passion for the project at hand. We believe that we can help in all these areas, which lead us to formalize an offering exclusively for startups.

When I formed CC Pace nearly 36 years ago, I was driven by a vision of a new model for a consulting company – one where integrity and the client’s best interest were ingrained in the firm’s culture and successful delivery could almost be guaranteed by the quality, drive and teamliness of the employees who worked there. While my dream may not have been as wide-reaching as Uber, when I think back to that time, I just remember energy, excitement and that ‘anything is possible’ feeling. Over the years, we’ve been very fortunate to work with clients in all phases, from startups to Fortune 500 organizations—all of which we value a great deal. I get excited to work with clients of all sizes, but there is something about working with startups that brings about an energy that you can’t replicate in other environments. Being a part of someone else’s vision coming to life brings me right back to where I stood over 35 years ago and is an environment in which I’ve seen our project teams thrive in.

Our experience working with startups combined with our project teams’ passion has lead us to formalize an offering to help startups get off the ground with the right technology. To enable us to work on more of these type of efforts, we are officially launching a new risk/reward program for startups. Here, we are able to combine our technical prowess with our business acumen that result in a software component that fully and effectively supports the start-up’s vision.  The premise of our offering is to build the technological platform for your business with less cash required. In exchange for this discount, we agree upon a fair share of some downstream benefits of your startup reflective of the risk we take.

If you like the idea of maintaining control of your vision while paying less up-front to get the results you need, then I would love to hear from you. Interesting companies with challenging technology needs has been a driver for us for over 35 years. For this reason, we are confident that we have the ability to help better enable your dream. After all, it’s only a matter of time before the next “Uber” shocks the world.

For more information on the risk/reward program, check out our offering here.

Building a new software product is a risky venture – some might even say adventure. The product ideas may not succeed in the marketplace. The technologies chosen may get in the way of success. There’s often a lot of money at stake, and corporate and personal reputations may be on the line.

I occasionally see a particular kind of team dysfunction on software development teams: the unwillingness to share risk among all the different parts of the team.

The business or product team may sit down at the beginning of a project, and with minimal input from any technical team members, draw up an exhaustive set of requirements. Binders are filled with requirements. At some point, the technical team receives all the binders, along with a mandate: Come up with an estimate. Eventually, when the estimate looks good, the business team says something along the lines of: OK, you have the requirements, build the system and don’t bother us until it’s done.

(OK, I’m exaggerating a bit for effect – no team is that dysfunctional. Right? I hope not.)

What’s wrong with this scenario? The business team expects the technical team to accept a disproportionate share of the product risk. The requirements supposedly define a successful product as envisioned by the business team. The business team assumes their job is done, and leaves implementation to the technical team. That’s unrealistic: the technical team may run into problems. Requirements may conflict. Some requirements may be much harder to achieve than originally estimated. The technical team can’t accept all the risk that the requirements will make it into code.

But the dysfunction often runs the other way too. The technical team wants “sign off” on requirements. Requirements must be fully defined, and shouldn’t change very much or “product delivery is at risk”. This is the opposite problem: now the technical team wants the business team to accept all the risk that the requirements are perfect and won’t change. That’s also unrealistic. Market dynamics may change. Budgets may change. Product development may need to start before all requirements are fully developed. The business team can’t accept all the risk that their upfront vision is perfect.

One of the reasons Agile methodologies have been successful is that they distribute risk through the team, and provide a structured framework for doing so. A smoothly functioning product development team shares risk: the business team accepts that technical circumstances may need adjustment of some requirements, and the technical team accepts that requirements may need to change and adapt to the business environment. Don’t fall into the trap of dividing the team into factions and thinking that your faction is carrying all the weight. That thinking leads to confrontation and dysfunction.

As leaders in Agile software development, we at CC Pace often encourage our clients to accept this risk sharing approach on product teams. But what about us as a company? If you founded a startup and you’ve raised some money through venture capital – very often putting your control of your company on the line for the money – what risk do we take if you hire us to build your product? Isn’t it glib of us to talk about risk sharing when it’s your company, your money, and your reputation at stake and not ours?

We’ve been giving a lot of thought to this. In the very near future, we’ll launch an exciting new offering that takes these risk sharing ideas and applies them to our client relationships as a software development consultancy. We will have more to say soon, so keep tuning in.