“With the help of good communication, a trustful relationship and skilled mobile app developers, Etteplan helped us deliver to our customer on time”, Petter Östlund, VP Products Payair.
Visibility and communication: The keys to successful development outsourcing
What is the key to successful software development? “Communication, communication and more communication.” That was apparently a simple question for Bartosz Sokołowski, Project Manager at Etteplan’s unit in Wroclaw, Poland. We are talking about management of outsourced mobile projects, and it’s apparent that this is Bartosz’s home turf. His team was responsible for the complete mobile application part of an important and time-critical project for Swedish-based Payair’s customer.
From maintenance to project management
But let’s first rewind back to the fall 2017, as we meet to discuss a success story that started back then. Developers from Etteplan were working on maintenance for Payair, a company specialized in mobile payment & commerce solutions. The developers where originally brought in to do maintenance work on an existing app, but soon the team started to grow and responsibility for coordination and management was starting to be handed over to Etteplan.
We are approaching the end of 2017 and it’s time to start a new project, a digital payment application. Payair was satisfied with Etteplan’s participation, so it was natural to bring in more manpower. However, the most interesting decisions were related to management of the new project. Where should the lines be drawn between Payair’s and Etteplan’s responsibilities? The previous work had showed that coordination could be outsourced successfully too, so it was natural to go further down that path.
“The difference between failure and success lies in the communication chain from coder to product owner.”
Bartosz Sokołowski, Project Manager at Etteplan’s unit in Wroclaw, Poland
Success depends on communication
Bartosz tells about how the new project was set up. The team brought in a bunch of best practices that came from previous experience. Most of us think of boring meetings when people talk about communication in projects. Yes, meetings are necessary, but they need to be planned carefully, have a clear scope and be well documented. The selected model was to arrange a couple of weekly meetings, including one big session with both Etteplan coders in Poland and Payair involved, in true scrum practice style.
But you can’t rely on meetings alone to ensure communication - they are after all quite clumsy. Everyone must be available at the same time and spend part of the time listening to for them irrelevant stuff. That’s why Bartosz quickly moves on and starts talking about tools. One may think that tools like GitLab and Jira are for recording and documenting, but their role for communication is at least as important. Or as Bartosz puts it, “Having everybody from coder to customer in the same tool gives a huge increase in visibility.”
The tools that keep it all together
That’s how the Payair project was set up. The customer had constant access to tools used by the team. They could track progress almost in real-time. And they could comment or intercept immediately if something was going in the wrong direction.
There’s one tool that the team loved to introduce - Fabric. It’s a system for rapid provisioning of builds, making it possible for anyone to test the latest functionality instantly. Imagine how much more the product owners get out from playing with the real product when it suits them, compared to just watching a demo!
It’s obvious that Bartosz is right when he stresses that communication isn’t just meetings. Making this kind of project a success is to a large extent knowing the right tools and how to deploy them efficiently.
“The more distributed the project is over geography, time-zones and languages, the more you need to rely on the systems to keep it all together”, says Bartosz.
The trust to run the show
But Bartosz, what did the big picture look like? What were you responsible for? “Our team managed how we did things and Payair what we did.” From Etteplan, this meant providing the development resources and offering a model for management and communication. This included the whole set with meetings and procedures, what tools to use and best practices for using them.
So how does this help the customer and jack in to their organization? The product owners are naturally the ones with the ultimate vision of the product. Tight involvement from them is of paramount importance. It means that they must have constant visibility into the state of the project and the functionality built so far. Remember Fabric, the tool for making it possible to easily test the latest functionality? That was one of the success factors in this project.
It worked well, and both sides were very happy with the cooperation. “We turned out to have the ideal setup for a true partnership”, Bartosz says, “Payair trusted us and let us run the show, and the product owner had a clear vision and was really engaged in the project.”
“Communication is a cornerstone and selecting the right tools is essential. Bartosz is highly skilled and we had a good overall picture of the project all the time.”
Petter Östlund, VP Products Payair
Petter also adds that no matter how good the tools are, meeting in person makes it so much easier to communicate. Don’t think good tools can eliminate travel and meetings completely.
Making mistakes and learning from them is the path to excellence. Petter, what could we have done differently? “It went very well, but we could perhaps focus on clarifying the requirements even more in the beginning and pay even more attention to the non-functional ones.” Great feedback that will be remembered in the next projects.
What we learn from this collaboration is naturally that outsourcing can be so much more than just hiring developers. At its best, it can be an independent, but still tightly integrated, unit. And it’s obvious what will be in focus if you let this team run the show - combining programming expertise with the right communication and processes, ensuring the delivery of great mobile applications that solve the job do be done. Bartosz is strikingly proud of the team when he wraps up why they succeeded. His final point is words of wisdom:
“Without vision you will just execute tasks. But a team with broad vision will truly take on the mission and show craftmanship.”