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Does outsourced testing work for Agile teams?

What are the pros and cons of outsourcing test efforts on large Agile teams?

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My first reaction to this was, “What are the pros and cons of outsourcing test efforts in any group?” As I thought about this, I considered the possible meanings.

If by “outsourcing” you mean hiring an off-site group, possibly an off-shore group, to do the testing needed for an Agile team and if the rest of the team is dispersed and have their meetings (standups, Scrums, whatever) virtually, then I see this as potentially working. 

Outsourced testing may not work as well if the only people who are going to attend meetings virtually are the testers – or any other specific group for that matter.

The reason is much of what makes Agile approaches effective is open communication. Yes, the regular daily meetings are part of that. Regular interactions are another part of that – over the table, over the wall – you can hear the conversations going on and may be able to shed light on their question, or gain insight on something you are working on as well. When teams are divided across multiple locations, this can become more challenging. 

I suspect it is easier when everyone is remote – meaning there is no central location where the team is based. Then remote meetings, Internet chat sessions and the like become the norm. When most of the team is in one physical location and a part is somewhere else, it can become very easy to “forget” about the other team. I don’t think this happens intentionally, but it happens. Not everyone may have experienced it, but I have seen it happen where one person or one group, outsourced and off-shored, tend to get left out of conversations.  

Time zones played a part of this in my experience. Lost communication cues also played a part of this – the uncomfortable expression can be easily missed, even on a video chat. The subtle shifting of the body where people don’t agree and do not want to cause a problem can simply never be noticed. When everyone is in the same physical location, such cues are fairly apparent. When people are new to a team, or where cultural differences call for conformity to the group instead of expressing one’s own view, valid concerns can be lost.

The core question is: What is the reason behind the outsourced testing? Is there a lack of talent on the team? Is there simply more work than the team can accomplish? Reasons like this may make the outsourcing idea reasonable in your situation. One area where I have seen it succeed was when there was a level of expertise needed for certain areas. In that case, bringing in experts to help address this need, and giving the opportunity for the team to learn from them, proved successful.

This was first published in August 2012

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