How To Handle Quality With Outsourcing

February 25, 2013

Outsourcing, Video Game Development

outsourcing quality

Photo credit: DaveOnFlickr / / CC BY-SA

When you outsource, how far do you push your partners on quality?  When outsourcing digital work (software, digital assets, etc.), it’s sometimes difficult to determine whether your request to fix something is really a change in what you wanted in the first place.  In addition, if you are easily able to make changes yourself, you may think you should just accept the work and make updates later.

In the hardware world, though, that wouldn’t happen.  If a manufacturer delivers something that doesn’t work, the customer sends it right back and the manufacturer is expected to fix it at their cost.  Same thing as a consumer.  If your favorite i-Fruit arrived broken, you would send it back, right?  You would do it right away and expect something for your trouble.

When you receive something from an outsourcer and it doesn’t meet your expectations, ask yourself: “Is the i-Fruit broken? Or am I asking for a custom color and a different case?  If it’s the former, your outsourcer must fix it.

To handle this objectively and fairly, you need to consider the following when you start the outsourcing relationship:

  • What is the basic technical functionality?  What do you need the outsourcer to deliver for their work to just… work? This does not have to be an exhaustively detailed list of requirements, but the basics need to be communicated such as platform, file format, file size, naming conventions, etc.
  • What is important to your product?  Of course you want everything, but what is really important to you and your product needs to be communicated to your outsourcing partners. This will define what quality means to you.
  • How will you measure quality?  Even if quality for your end product is completely subjective, you will still need to figure out a way to objectively determine what your standards are and whether your outsourcing partner has met them.  At a minimum you will need to provide a reference, communicate the key points of that reference and use it as a comparison to what you receive.
  • How will you factor in the cost of rework? In hardware, a certain level of rework is negotiated and factored into the cost of the product.  The same needs to be done even in software products.  This is where it can get tricky.  If the amount of rework is significantly more than expected, then a new round of negotiations will start as both sides try to push as much of the cost as they can onto each other.  No matter what, if the i-Fruit is broken, and the first three points were clearly communicated, then the cost first lies with the outsourcer.

How have you handled quality issues in outsourcing relationships?  What do you specify up-front?  How do you factor in the cost of rework? Please share your experiences in the comments.

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

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4 Comments on “How To Handle Quality With Outsourcing”

  1. jfvachon Says:

    This has been on my mind a lot lately. You bring very good points. I think that you need to define your specifications clearly from the get go, and both sides will benefit greatly from the clarity. And for artistic work, at some point you have to be willing to let go; you’re not doing it yourself, so it won’t be exactly like you would have made it. If you’re willing to be flexible and not micro manage, you’ll get much better results.

    It’s also important to build trust with your outsourcing partner. Once they know you’re not out to squeeze every drop from them, they’ll give you the extra mile, no charge.


    • Liza Wood Says:

      I agree 100%. Building trust, though, needs participation from both sides of the partnership. An outsourcer can’t just say “trust us”; that trust has to be earned. Likewise, outsourcers should also push their less-than-organized clients for clarity. While some prefer ambiguity, it usually bites you later.


      • jfvachon Says:

        Absolutely. But I meant it as “you have to trust the outsourcer you’re hiring”. That seems to be the hardest. Of course it has to be earned, but it’s too easy to micro manage a service provider.

        Great article Liza!


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    […] How To Handle Quality With Outsourcing […]

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