Assessing Cultural Fit With An Offshore Software Development Partner


When it comes to choosing an offshore software development partner, there are multiple factors to consider in order to create a successful relationship. Culture is perhaps one of the greatest and most influential of these factors. As the DNA of an organisation, company culture is often representative of a firm’s personality, people, values and working attitudes.

It’s a common understanding amongst colleagues within an organisation that helps them understand and appreciate what makes them different from other companies. Playing such a major role in company identity and beliefs, it’s important that an external developer’s company culture is effectively evaluated before any contracts are signed. 

Why Company Culture Matters

Offshore software development partners come in all shapes and sizes, and each has their own unique company culture that represents their ideology. As a result, it’s important that the cultural element of each team is evaluated, as in many cases it influences the work that’s produced, how it’s created, employee satisfaction and standards of communication.

A company with a negative culture that demotivates its developers is likely to produce lower quality work and limit their commitment to the job. Additionally, relationships with 3rd parties are rarely private, and so it’s integral that any partners are aligned with common decency and are not abusing legislation or their workers.

How Company Culture Varies across Organisations, Regions and Countries

Company culture is a product of a selection of complex variables. These are typically very different in each country, and this is where the challenges often arise when it comes to finding an outsourced software development team.

Different countries have different ideas around what is normal and this can create conflicts if those ideas are potentially controversial or may impact the output of the project. As a result, it’s important to understand the values of an organisation before engaging. 

With that said, even with a good quality evaluation, it’s not uncommon in development outsourcing for companies to discover elements of their partner’s culture after an agreement has been made.

This can be a culture shock and potentially create conflicts of a moral or logistical nature. When this occurs, companies can either adapt to accommodate the view or request change. Depending upon the extent of the disagreement, varying levels of action may be required. 

Realistically, the best outsourced software development partners are those that are developed over time by a founding team that really care and invest in developing a fun and motivating environment to work in. By having a strong culture from within, it is easier to be flexible when it comes to working with clients who have their own ways of working.

The Role of Company Culture When Evaluating a Software Development Partner

Company culture can have a significant impact on the effective delivery of a development project. In fact, it often influences work ethic, staff turnover rate and commitment to external projects.

Work Ethic

If a developer’s culture is highly unorganised, there may be a significant reliance on crunch periods in order to deliver on time. This can often be unfair on employees and push them beyond their limits, impacting their social and mental wellbeing. Companies that operate in this way often have low job satisfaction and this is likely to prevent developers from producing their best work. 

Commitment to External Projects 

Some developers have a culture of ‘churn and burn’, they win just enough projects to keep them going, but do not invest the time to deliver to a high enough standard. Instead they focus their resources on the next client win. This is often indicative of a working culture that does not respect or care for client needs or success. When the commitment to deliver is lacking, the end result often falls below acceptable standards.  

Staff Turnover Rate

Staff satisfaction often correlates with turnover. Developers with high turnover often struggle to maintain consistency, with a constant flow of individuals leaving the business. This means few developers truly get to know the clients and it becomes very difficult to build a relationship. 

All of these cultural challenges can majorly impact success or failure in project delivery. With so much on the line, it’s easy to understand why getting to know a developer’s company culture beforehand is so important. 

The Digital Knights Approach

At Digital Knights we rigorously vet the company culture of each development partner before they are accepted into our network. This is done through a detailed ‘Team Vibe Report’ that evaluates: 

  • Satisfaction
  • Personal Growth
  • Peers Rapport
  • Management Rapport
  • Culture
  • Well-being
  • Feedback and Recognition
  • Advocacy
  • Empowerment

In each of these areas, a developer is given a score of 1 to 5 based on the answers provided by key stakeholders. These scores are then evaluated against the Digital Knight’s network mean score to identify anomalies, trends or patterns that may raise a red flag. In this instance, that issue will be investigated further by a specialist team to seek out and evaluate the details behind the score. 

A Common Warning Sign

In offshore software development firms, the culture of the company can be weak and very difficult to characterise, due to the fact that their employees have grown through taking over norms and values from multiple clients as a result of large outsourcing deals.

In such cases, there is typically no common cultural blood group internally, but instead a mix of subcultures, these organisations should be avoided when looking for a trustworthy external partner. 

The Risks of Partnering with a Culturally Incompatible Partner

Considering the cost of technical development projects, choosing an outsourced software development partner is a big decision and can be the difference between project success and failure. In the event a company ends up in a relationship with a culturally incompatible development partner, problems are likely to arise. 

For example, working together may become difficult as both sides have different views on how cooperation should work and are not prepared to compromise. Alternatively, PR challenges may arise as the relationship becomes public and the developer holds controversial views or policies that reflect poorly on all involved.

These challenges can also be reflected in the employee relationship dynamic between external and internal members, if staff are treated a certain way internally, there is the risk external staff will be treated the same way. Finally, culture also often impacts innovation because it shapes the patterns dealing with novelty, individual initiatives and collective actions. 

Before engaging an offshore software development partner, it’s essential proper checks are conducted and there is clear proof the company culture is compatible. This needs to happen well before contracts are signed. When assessing cultural fit, it’s critical the right questions are asked to the right people and that there is a structure in place allowing for comparison. It can be hard to recognise red flags and anomalies if there isn’t a normal state to compare to.

A development partner’s characteristics should be evaluated at every level across every department to provide the fullest picture for an overall audit. When concerns are found, it’s key they are communicated in the right way so they can be tackled head-on and either explained or acknowledged with caveats developed to mitigate any problems.

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