Devilry vs. Delivery – How to self-destruct an outsourcing project?

Image from Flickr Creative Commons | Stefan

Image from Flickr Creative Commons | Stefan

Outsourcing can prove to be a boon, and yet, can be one of the most fragile among your business relationships. It is often possible that things can go wrong: and when they do go wrong, it invariably culminates in a situation where the other side is blamed. Invariably, all the finger pointing goes nowhere, really, and may manifest in some form of escalation: whether suits in a court of law or damages, or often termination of the contract, potentially never working again. There are many horror stories on outsourcing: many organisations have burned their fingers with the process, enough to be scarred badly enough to never try it again. However, the irony lies in the fact that this state of affairs comes to be, on occasion, as a consequence of self-sabotage.

Why does this happen?

Sense of Superiority:

For starters, one of the most common occurrences is the assumption of a sense of superiority on part of the organisation engaging the outsourced labourer. The notion of “you’re wrong unless you prove otherwise” can be a disastrous foundation on which to build a relationship that your business hopes to proceed on. Outsourcing takes you to experts, and it is but wise to remain cautious while approaching an outsider. However, the danger lies in taking a rigid stand to the point that you not only disbelieve the capacity of the other, but also walk the extra mile in making them aware of your inability to trust them. This adds a doubled burden on the expert – that of having to prove themselves worthy of your trust, and that of delivering in response to your demands and expectations. The lack of personal trust can be very disparaging to the interest of a project at hand – and is one of the sure shot ways in which the outsourcing may fail.

Guarded Pessimism:

A second situation is to approach the outsourcing association with a sense of guarded pessimism: literally lurking around waiting for something to go wrong. In doing that, you wind up creating a scenario in which the pessimist thinking might just manifest. You wind up expecting something to go wrong – and when something does, regardless of how minor or small an issue it may be – you wind up pouncing on the outsourced expert for what went wrong. The cycle that follows can be messy. Everything from allegations to harsh criticism and hurtful feedback are hurled, demoralising and demeaning the outsourced talent. They go back to the desk with anything but vigour and renewed motivation, and end up delivering results that are substandard, or fraught with mistakes. This puts you right back into the cycle, where there is a continuous loop of “I told you so”, that really just ends the success quotient right there. This tends to happen when the human element of ego comes into play.

As a customer, the principle of “customer is sovereign” does tend to creep up. As a recipient of a service, a user, regardless of the purpose of the service itself, tends to believe that he is in a place where he deserves to be told about updates, demos, changes, feedback and information on the stage of the project. It isn’t, in his line of thought, his duty to ask for information. However, the truth is that for the service provider himself, the customer is one in many. To have to prioritise each customer enough to call in to offer copious information time and again is both impractical and too much to expect (especially when you deal with small to mid-sized vendors that lack process maturity). A proactive part played by the customer can help alter this state of affairs, as opposed to merely trying to prove a point rather than solve the issue.

Denial of big picture participation:

A third situation that can bring about the self-destruction of an outsourcing project is the lack of a shared vision. The customer approaches an outsourced service provider for a particular end result that they have envisioned in their mind. However, unless this vision is articulated and shared, no matter what level of expertise the outsourced talent may have, it cannot be achieved except for a coincidence. Customers have a duty to be proactive in approaching the task they have outsourced talent for, failing which, they send the association spiralling down the route of destruction

Restricted Communication:

Another common reason that encourages the self-destruct of an outsourcing association is the lack of communication. Too much information and too little information can be disparaging to your interests. The way things are phrased and expressed, and the way feedback is shared, or if it is shared at all, matters significantly. There is always room for friction – it is but inevitable in every situation where two human beings interact in a creative setting. But, the key to that is to retain a certain degree of openness in the communication, that can go a long way in keeping equations intact. By choosing to remain in a place of prerogative and expect things of the other, a customer puts an outsourcing project in jeopardy.

Urge to take control:

A final example of a factor that can throw a project out of gear is the customer’s need to continually interfere. It need not be that an outsourced expert may lack an understanding of what you want. As a customer, the duty remains to clarify what is expected and what they want out of a given project. Once that is done, it is wise for the customer to step back, in order for the expert to do his best, to bring the project to fruition. Continual interference can not only irritate the expert, but may also put the project in a place of hazy obscurity because the customer’s needs may not reconcile with what is best for the project. A customer’s idea need not always be operable, and it is for the outsourced expert to assess and take a call on the possibilities. At each stage, it is possible that what was once envisioned may not quite find manifestation – but the key is to make the next best practicable alternative a reality. If the customer refuses to remain open minded about this, it is another way down the path of self-destruction.


For every one of these points above, there is a valid counter-point on the customer’s side for why they do what they do. However it is pertinent to be self-aware of one’s actions and their impact on the outcome of the work.

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