Four Keys to Offshoring Business Analysis

By: Robert Duff

What’s the secret to reducing cost and accelerating the delivery of offshore software development? Move business analysis offshore, too! That's right. There’s now a growing body of evidence that doing so will reduce the costs of developing requirements while still maintaining high quality (Powell, Piccoli, & Ives, Winter 2004), (Nath, Sridhar, Adya, & Malik, October-December 2008). At Coherent Solutions, our experience indicates that companies will achieve greater efficiency from their programming staff by co-locating business analysts with their offshore programming team.

In fact, we’ve established four rules that will get you there quickly, based on our success with hundreds of offshore development projects: 1) wait until your offshore team has gained a critical degree of knowledge; 2) assign a local liaison to construct high-level analysis with face-to-face needs; 3) move the requirements details offshore; and 4) perform early and frequent reviews and approvals with your internal customers.

First, wait until your offshore team has a critical body of knowledge. There is a considerable amount to learn at your location. If the offshore team is to provide the same kind of quality as a local team, they need time and experience to acquire the institutional memory gained by your local team over years of experience with working with you and your customers. You may accelerate this transition by bringing the offshore team to your site at the beginning of the project. But, even afterward, there will be a lot for them to learn. So don’t start the transition too soon.

Second, assign a local analysis liaison. Industry experts agree—and our experience bears it out—that a local liaison is a key contributor to success (Robert D. Battin & K. Subramanian, March/April 2001). With offshore business analysis, the liaison’s role is to communicate at your site in situations where it is difficult for the offshore team to do so. Examples include tracking down a subject matter expert that is always in a meeting, finding the answer to a question that may require a certain amount of back-and-forth discussion, or even something as simple as talking to a customer when the time zones don't quite match up with the offshore team.

Most software projects these days are completed in multiple iterations. This means that even if the offshore team travels at the beginning of the project, there will be a lot of requirements that are left for later iterations. It's not cost-effective or efficient for the offshore team to travel at the beginning of each iteration. But the local liaison can add value to their role by performing high-level business and requirements analysis and documentation during those iterations.

If you’re concerned that assigning a high-cost local person to the project adds overhead, keep in mind that it only needs to be a part-time assignment, especially if the project is small. For larger teams, our experience shows that there is plenty of work to be distributed among both offshore and local team members, and a high ratio of offshore to local team members provides an attractive cost structure.

Third, send the details offshore. Because of rule No. 1, the team should now have experience with the domain. Local team members no longer have to develop every little detail. In fact, the person best equipped to dig into the details may now be one of your offshore programmers. By performing some of the business analysis offshore, you also give your offshore analyst easy access to this person.

There are many other analysis activities that work well offshore because they require little face-to-face customer time, including reviewing the legacy set of requirements documentation, constructing permutations and combinations of scenarios, and asking the programmers to find details in the code. Our experience with several clients over the last year has been that offshore business analysts excel in producing details from these activities. But we still have to make sure that we are producing the desired requirements. There is no one way to do this, of course, but we recommend rule No. 4.

Fourth, perform frequent reviews of requirements with your internal customers. Today's agile methods work great for this (Schwaber, 2004). Each of them espouses frequent review of artifacts and software deliverables by customers. If you see the results of analysis early and often, you’ll not only be well-informed about the project, you’ll be able to help steer the analysis in the right direction.

So, with an experienced offshore team performing detailed business analysis fed to them by a local liaison, and with the results reviewed early and often by the internal customer, you can lower your costs, reduce your risks, and deliver high-quality software projects that deliver on their promises.

(1) Nath, D., Sridhar, V., Adya, M., & Malik, A. (October-December 2008). Project Quality of Off-Shore Virtual Teams Engaged in Software Requirements Analysis: An Exploratory Comparative Study. Journal of Glabal Information Management , 16 (4), 24-45.
(2) Powell, A., Piccoli, G., & Ives, B. (Winter 2004). Virtual Teams:A Review of Current Literature and Directions for Future Research. The DATA BASE for Advances in Information Systems, 35 (1), 6-36.
(3) Robert D. Battin, R. C., & K. Subramanian, M. I. (March/April 2001). Leveraging Resources in Global Software Development. IEEE SOFTWARE, 70-77.
(4) Schwaber, K. (2004). Agile Project Management with Scrum.Redmon, WA: Microsoft Press.

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Robert Duff is the VP of Service Delivery at Coherent Solutions. Coherent Solutions provides custom software development for organziations that deliver commercial grade software. Since 1995, the company has helped over 100 software companies leverage the benefits of global software development teams.

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