Outsourcing and Agile? No Problem

Close Collaboration and Communication Can Overcome the Challenges of Distributed Teams


Close collaboration and communication can overcome the challenges of distributed teams.

By Priya Patra, PMP


I am an agile evangelist. I believe that by focusing on individuals over processes, agile approaches help to deliver more value to the customer. But some insist agile is a bad fit in an outsourcing environment, where multiple teams from different organizations work together—often in different time zones. According to VersionOne's 11th Annual State of Agile Report, released this year, 51 percent of respondents who outsource software development projects use agile practices for them.

For the others, agile can also work well in outsourced projects—I've seen it up close. Here's how.

Agile approaches can help team members collaborate to deliver value in regular increments.

I was tasked with managing a 25-member team, spread across North America, Europe and Asia, working on an offshored project to build an account receivables platform. Three organizations were involved: the large multinational company that outsourced the project; the service provider handling design, code construction, testing and deployment; and the quality assurance (QA) contractor hired by the provider. And of course, testing involved end users—payment collectors and data entry operators, for example.


Partnerships can be built online, but traveling to the customer's location strengthens the customer-provider relationship. As the development service provider, we traveled to the customer's location to learn about the client's business philosophy, company culture and goals. That helped us to view the project as more than just a task. The same held true for the QA service provider: We placed one test analyst on-site with the customer for two weeks to see the platform in use and understand the end user's pain areas.

But most of the time the team was spread across continents. Given that face-to-face communication is one of agile's core values, we obliged stakeholders to be available for collaboration at least 30 minutes per day (we used scrum), via phone and videoconference calls and instant messaging. A product owner representative was embedded within the development and QA teams to facilitate delivery, and we conducted sprint retrospectives on videoconferences to keep everyone on the same page.

The entire team evolved from a “throw over the wall” mentality to a constant monitoring and guidance approach. Trust and transparency were essential. To ensure there was continuous, parallel and independent verification, we completed on-site visits to the service provider's location.


After two months and four sprints, we launched our first minimum viable product 10 percent under budget; end users were satisfied. One year later, the team is implementing the platform in four of the customer's lines of business.

With outsourced (and especially offshored) projects, the biggest challenge is getting all parties focused on a single goal. Agile approaches can help team members collaborate to deliver value in regular increments. But everyone must commit to the approach from day one. PM

image Priya Patra, PMP, is a regular contributor to ProjectManagement.com and a program manager in the IT sector who lives in Mumbai, India.