Why does outsourcing of computer programming go wrong so often?


One of my friends has just been sent to a major outsource country to sort out a problem of quality assurance of computer programmes sent for processing overseas. Home offices were picking up fundamental errors in the programming and in some cases when sent back for correction came back with the same error unchanged. What is going on?

First of all, it is rarely inefficiency or incompetence on the part of the technicians themselves. Local programmers know perfectly well what is going on and how to correct problems. But they don’t feel they have the authority to propose alternative solutions, as most UK and US programmers would do automatically.

The problem is not the technicians but the company culture and local business culture. You will not contradict your boss or risk taking the initiative. If you do the consequences can be dire. Official warnings, docked salary, suspension and the sack are common responses to perceived insubordinate behaviour. If that’s how I act with my local manager, how am I going to react to the client? Even more respect, even less insubordination, followed by even fewer results.

In many countries the situation is so drastic that companies automatically factor in a contingency budget to compensate for late delivery fines or even cancellation of contract.

There are ways through this. On the spot training, as my friend is doing, is one partial solution, but maybe not for the reasons his company intended. The key is cultural engagement, building relationships of trust with local outsource teams and understanding the local company culture, operations style, management structure and expectations of the business relationship.

Fortis Consulting London’s team has many years of experience advising firms how to manage outsourcing to reduce costs and preserve public reputation for quality delivery – on spec, on budget and on time.

India, the Philippines, China, Egypt, Romania, Brazil and other outsource destinations all experience different problems. If you are dealing with them and experiencing difficulties, contact us. We know how to help.

Written by Barry Tomalin,

Cross Cultural Lead, Fortis Consulting London. He is also a Lecturer at the Academy of Diplomacy & International Governance, Loughborough University London and a Visiting Lecturer at the London School of Economics.

Author: ‘World Business Cultures – a Handbook’


Fortis Consulting London provides a range of services to assist with international commerce: