Insightful stories on how companies make ‘buy or build’ decisions regarding QA services
In today’s article, Nadya Knysh — Managing Director at software testing company a1qa — talks about ‘build or buy’ decisions related to professional software testing.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing QA needs and building the right in-house processes? This is a tricky question, as I’ve seen both success and failure for each of those options.
When talking to our potential clients, I hear pretty much the same concern from them with regard to third-party vendors.
What are the main concerns related to buying a QA team?
Concern #1: It’s not secure
Unfortunately, that’s a major issue for everyone these days. So yes, you have to be very careful when selecting a QA partner. Some companies provide so-called crowd-testing services when your solution is published online, and whoever wants to make some money can go for it and test it.
You’ll never know the names of these people, and the terms and conditions will definitely state that the company itself is not liable in case something goes wrong. Other companies are too small to establish security policies to keep you safe.
At a1qa, we do pay attention to being secure. That’s why we involve all levels of defending our clients — legally (though NDAs, Confidential Information Policies, etc.), physically (limited access to a1qa’s premises, network, data centers, devices, etc.), and virtually (account management, network security, access management, etc.).
Concern #2: I cannot control the team
That’s a very popular statement — however, it’s not really valid. There are multiple tools and techniques that will work as your eyes and ears.
Stand-up practice is the fastest way to figure out if the team is working or not.
Defects and testing progress are something you can easily check through a project management tool.
Metrics and KPIs are tools to keep the team on track.
Third-party teams are very much under a magnifying glass, even more so than your developer in their cubicle.
Concern #3: They are not sitting next to me
Well, yes and no. Of course, when using a third-party service provider, these people are not in the same physical room, yet they are still there when you need them. Even doctor’s visits are going online now, why shouldn’t that happen to QA engineers?
Real-life stories (not very successful, but very insightful)
In this article, I’d like to share quite complicated cases to help you better understand when an in-house team is not the best option or a third-party vendor is not the best choice.
We had been working with a client of ours for just a few months. They already had development resources onboard as well as several business analysts, and they were desperately looking for an internal QA team or at least a QA engineer. It took them three or four months of nonstop interviews, phone screenings, CV reviews, and whatever else. Did they find someone they liked? No.
Moral: Be realistic regarding the quality of the resources you can get from the HR market in your region.
Another client of ours started working with us after experiencing a similar situation, though it took them a bit longer to understand that they cannot always get what they want. Their QA budget was very limited, while their expectations of the resources were pretty high. Did they find someone they liked and could afford? Well, yes, but through a third-party vendor (this is us!).
Moral: Be realistic regarding what you can afford with how much you have in your pocket.
For a client in New York City, we stepped in to set up the QA process. They already had a team of about six in-house QA engineers, and several more from the third party. We conducted the analysis phase and provided recommendations on how to proceed with the road map and priorities and estimates, and so on. About six months later, I met with the CTO of the company. I asked him how things were going. Did they implement the changes? No.
Moral: To establish good QA practice, you need someone to drive the car. If everyone is taking passenger seats, you won’t make it to Vermont.
Another client of ours is an oil and gas company — we had been working with them for quite some time before 2008. In 2008, they had to minimize expenses and freeze most of their software and IT initiatives. That was a bad year for sure! They decided to go with a cheap QA vendor (as well as the development one). Did they manage to make at least one release in the next two years? No.
Moral: Cheap is not always that cheap. P.S. they came back to us in late 2009 and are still our clients.
One of the banks here in the US was looking forward to developing a new payment solution, with fully internal software for transaction processing. They decided to hire a third-party company for QA services, and they did. Could they actually start testing? No.
Moral: If your project has very strict security or environment limitations, consider them early.
One of our clients was going through a formal tender process. The procurement department had the only criteria — the cheaper, the better. And the cheapest proposal was offered by a company that had no idea what an OSS/BSS solution for telecommunication was. Was this project a success? Not really. Well, yes for us, but you know.
Moral: Check the credentials of your vendor if you want a long-term partner.
In a nutshell, there are several factors that one should consider:
1. Are your QA needs long term? You don’t want to play a hire-fire game every three months.
2. Are there needs that come into play every now and then, such as performance or security testing? Somewhat close to the one above-mentioned — you’ll pay for them being idle.
3. Do you have a senior QA or someone who is experienced enough to lead the team in-house? If no, is it easy to hire? There is no way to hire a bunch of engineers and hope they’ll drive the process. Especially for QA, as it involves interacting with so many points in your organization to establish an effective practice.
4. Are there technical or security limitations that prevent your QA team from working remotely? If you absolutely need QA people to work from your location, think carefully — you either have to hire locally or find a QA partner who is capable of providing such resources.
A final note
And yes, check your vendor — you’d never marry someone without dating (unless you are drunk and in Vegas). If you are looking for a long and fruitful relationship with a partner, you want to know how long they’ve been in business, what they can and cannot do, and what other clients are saying about them.
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