When done right, IT outsourcing can provide businesses with a massive competitive advantage, powering innovation, sustainable scaling, cost savings, budget/staffing flexibility, and countless other benefits. It makes IT leaders’ lives easier, making them look good while driving value for the business. Again, however, that’s when it’s done right. So how can you avoid doing it wrong?
Much of the success of any IT outsourcing relationship boils down to a single factor: effective communication. Communication mistakes are incredibly common in outsourcing. Below, we’ve broken down five of the most common mistakes, explaining the problems, their potential impact, and how you can avoid them.
Communication Mistake #1: Micromanaging
It’s your business and therefore your baby. It’s not surprising that it can be difficult to give up control over how things get done. So you become overly prescriptive in telling your IT outsourcing provider how they should do your work. After all, you don’t want to risk they’ll do things wrong.
- Reduced productivity, efficiency, and quality. Your IT outsourcing provider is increasingly hamstrung in how they can serve you. You’ve narrowed the definitions of what’s acceptable so much that it’s causing an entirely new set of problems. As they spend more and more time focused on adhering to your guidelines, productivity and efficiency decrease. The product suffers.
- Damaged relationships. Outsourced workers are likely to feel mistrusted, disrespected, and undervalued. That doesn’t exactly encourage optimum performance or a strong future.
- Missed insights and opportunities. Micromanaging often means missing out on value. Your outsourced workers bring a fresh, valuable perspective on your business and product. They can offer ideas you may not have considered.
- Default to trust. You probably hired your IT outsourcer because they have a track record of quality work and you respect and trust their professionals. Why not trust they’ll do good work the best way they know how?
- Focus on the “what” instead of the “how.” Limit your prescriptiveness to defining WHAT you expect from them (e.g., deliverables, timelines, priorities), not HOW it should happen.
Communication Mistake #2: Lack of Role Clarity
Say you’ve hired an IT outsourcing professional to be a product manager for a new offering. They’ve got a long history of successfully managing products for other companies. You bring them in and set them free. Unfortunately, you fail to clearly define their role and responsibilities. You also fail to establish agreed-upon milestones and metrics that will indicate whether they’ve succeeded in their role.
- Mistaken assumptions. Different clients have different expectations. Your outsourced professional’s last version of “product manager” may be quite different from what you need or expect.
- Misunderstood duties. They may leave required duties undone or take on responsibilities belonging to others, duplicating efforts.
- Reduced accountability. Without metrics and milestones defining success, how can you ensure accountability? You can’t.
- Misalignment with other initiatives or projects. If they don’t understand their responsibilities relative to helping your company balance and support other planned or ongoing initiatives, you risk hindering progress.
- Set clear, detailed expectations from day one. Make sure all responsibilities are documented in writing. Establish those milestones and metrics! Clarify who they’ll report to, when, and at what level of detail.
- Explain how their role fits into your big picture. Make sure they understand the product or project’s business case. Help them recognize the interplay and dependencies between their role and other initiatives.
Communication Mistake #3: Lack of Transparency
Maybe it’s embarrassing, or your fault. Maybe it’s just inconvenient or irritating. Whatever the case, a problem has emerged, but you’re loath to broadcast the yucky details. Anyway, you think you may be able to fix it, before anyone else has to get involved — and before it causes other problems. So you hide it. You don’t tell your IT outsourcing partner about it, because you don’t think it’s relevant to their work.
- Misunderstood consequences. Do you fully understand the interplay between the problem and the outsourced work? Your “small” problem could lead to big unanticipated consequences.
- Missed opportunity for early damage control. The sooner you start coming at your problem with all available resources, the more likely you are to find a solution. It’s possible your outsourcing partner could come up with — and efficiently execute — a solution you may not have considered.
- Missed opportunity for casting a bigger solution net. A good IT outsourcing partner often draws upon their organization’s collective knowledge to source possible solutions. In other words, your outsourced developers’ knowledge isn’t all you get. They’re highly likely to tap into the shared knowledge base that is their entire developer network to find the best possible solutions. Those developers bring ideas, insights, and opinions based on previous (and likely similar) experiences.
- Provide optimum transparency throughout your relationship. Be utterly transparent with your outsourcing partner about all issues and problems. They’ll respect your ownership and accountability. They’ll also be better-equipped to help you understand potential ramifications and find actionable solutions.
- Debrief afterward. Take the time to discuss (with your outsourcer!) what went wrong and why, the impact, and the solution. Identify opportunities for future process improvements.
Communication Mistake #4: Not Taking the Relationship Deep Enough
Maybe you only hired your IT outsourcing provider to perform a single, focused service. So you elect to share only what you think they need to know to perform the limited-scope work. After all, isn’t it a waste of time to do otherwise?
Nope. Holding your IT outsourcing provider at arm’s length hurts you in several ways:
- Misalignment of vision. If they don’t clearly understand where you are and where you want to go, they may head a different direction entirely.
- Missing information that hurts performance. They’ll perform better if they understand the bigger picture of your operations, goals, priorities, plans, past issues, and strategic objectives.
- Missed opportunities for innovation. A strong relationship is central to identifying opportunities for innovation. A trusted partner can help you plan more effectively, helping you be proactive rather than reactive. Remember — just like with the problem-solving help — your outsourced professionals are a conduit to a wider organization overflowing with technical expertise and ideas. The wider you make that door, the more insight you open yourself up to.
- Missed opportunity to build a true partnership. Every IT outsourcing provider wants to create a long-term, win-win relationship. If someone offers you a pot filled with gold, are you going to take only one or two pieces, refusing the rest?
- Embed a big-picture look at your business in onboarding. Share your history, culture, values, vision, structure, and strategic priorities. Explain all planned or in-progress initiatives.
- Help them understand where they fit into the strategy. Talk about what matters to leadership, focusing on the stakeholders involved in their work. Explain any overlapping responsibilities or potential conflicts. Provide clarity about how their role fits into the vision. Establish shared goals.
- Involve outsourced workers in all relevant meetings and activities. Err on the side of more involvement/immersion rather than less. Armed with more information, the quality of their work and insights will increase. They’ll also feel more invested in your vision.
Communication Mistake #5: Too Many Assumptions
You’ve been around the tech world for years; so has your IT outsourcer. You use shorthand in talking about several topics, leaving out details they probably already know. In short, you make a ton of assumptions about what your outsourced IT team does and doesn’t know. Your communications lack detail or clarity, often implying things without spelling them out.
- Wasted time. Everyone’s time is wasted when you make people guess what you want. They want to know what you want. Wanting details isn’t a weakness. It shows they care about getting things right.
- Increased risk. You’re likely to end up with miscommunications, mistakes, inefficiencies, and missed opportunities for product/process improvement.
- Reduced quality and efficiency. Speaking of that incorrect or inefficient work… you’re getting less bang for your buck if you’re slowing down progress.
The right solution depends on your needs and preferences. Consider these options:
- Agree upon detailed communication protocols. Co-develop a cadence and format that encourages regular sharing of details and project status. Include timely checkpoints. Embed time for questions and confirmations in every live session. Establish which communication methods and timing are appropriate for day-to-day questions vs. urgent issues vs. directional changes. Build protocols relative to time-zone shifts and ensuring appropriate overlap of work schedules.
- Agree to over-communicate. Set the expectation that more communication is always better.
- Hold important meetings in person or via video conference. Face-to-face communication, even virtual, greatly reduces the risk of misunderstandings. It also increases the likelihood that people will ask questions about anything unclear.
- Choose tools wisely. Slack and email are lovely, but it’s important to tailor tools to fit the situation. Sharing your screen or jumping on a quick call often leads to faster progress or issue resolution.
- Establish the expectation of ongoing improvement. Good communication must be sustained. At established milestones, assess and discuss communication quality. Identify any improvements needed, and hold the team accountable for them.
Communication as a Central Value Proposition
Ultimately, communication is a shared responsibility between you and your IT outsourcing partner. That’s why, when assessing an IT outsourcing relationship, it’s imperative to understand a provider’s communication approach. Do they treat it as a priority? Do they have protocols to ensure its quality? Do their clients value their approach?
Strong communication strategies from a trusted, experienced partner are central to IT outsourcing success. New clients often tell us our communication approach is a differentiator. Existing and past clients appreciate our ability to communicate effectively, sharing ideas, solving problems, taking ownership/initiative, and functioning as a true extension of their teams. So if you or your IT outsourcing partner aren’t delivering effective communication, it’s time to hold each other accountable and figure out how to do better. Don’t let communication mistakes keep you from realizing the full value of your IT outsourcing relationship.
Unsure whether in-house or outsourced is the right path for you? Check out our decision-making guide.
As Distillery’s Partnership Director, Sam Wheeler is responsible for building strategic client and industry relationships. He’s passionate about matching clients with innovative, custom-fit solutions that help them grow their businesses. In a former career as an elementary school teacher, he learned the value of putting people at the center of everything you do. When he’s not working, he loves spending time at home with his wife and daughter, enjoying frequent hikes, BBQs, and trips to the coffee shop.