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Sprinting to the Finish while Cutting Costs: Agile Development in a Near-Shore Model

New approaches to software development such as the Agile methodology are testing the validity of “slow and steady wins the race.” Yet, while Agile offers the promise of a faster ROI, it is important to select the right delivery model to actualize its potential.

The Benefits of Agile Development

The traditional software development process requires a hefty timeframe: first comes planning for the entire system, then gathering requirements, then the system is designed, built and tested end-to-end. Timelines grow even longer when customer feedback isn’t gathered until the end of development and requested changes halt the progress of subsequent project phases.

Traditional software development could take 12 months to implement and begin realizing a return on investment. Enter Agile Development. Instead of planning around every aspect of the development process over the course of 12 months, an Agile team attacks system development in an iterative, piecemeal approach. According to the Agile method, an application is broken into small pieces of functionality via “stories.” Each story is organized on a central storyboard where the Agile team is located and describes a specific component of the development process. The IT team then implements the functionality one piece at a time in a prioritized manner. By limiting the scope into sub-sections while maximizing team collaboration and adaptability, each section takes anywhere from two to six weeks to complete. The Agile method’s smaller deliverables thus provide a faster ROI than traditionally developed software.

The Agile Team

Team structure plays a critical role in driving the success an Agile approach. Key team members include:

  • Agile Coach: An advisor and facilitator responsible for helping the team to abide by the Agile method. Must be extremely experienced in applying Agile methodologies, including: Xtreme Programming, SCRUM and the DSDM waterfall method.
  • SCRUM Master: A leader and project manager who directs all project activities and strives to ensure deliveries stay within scope, budget and time requirements.
  • Technical Leader: The smartest architect in the room who also demonstrates a high level of initiative and helps coordinate day-to-day activities. Complex technology-related matters and associated challenges are referred to the Technical Leader for guidance.
  • Product Owner: A representative of the customer’s business operations who ensures that the software produced will align with the customer’s needs. The Product Owner is heavily involved in the iterative development process, which in turn eliminates the lengthy editorial process at the end of traditional software development.
  • End-User Designer: Liaison between the Product Owner and developers on the Agile team responsible for ensuring customer needs are met while technical design is feasible.
  • Developer: Responsible for designing the system by writing code in short timeframes.

Selecting the Right Delivery Model

Due to the necessary collaboration among all parts of an Agile development team, an off-shore model poses many constraints. While the lower cost of off-shore talent is tempting, the frequent interaction an Agile team requires does not lend itself to remote collaboration — especially when team members straddle very different time zones.

The business acumen of consultants is another consideration. The majority of IT consultants in India, for example, are hired directly out of college with little real-world business experience. Even if coding skills and mathematics are brilliant, they may not have a great deal of experience solving business problems or interacting with client management. This skill deficit can lead to a painful requirements gathering process, in which clients feel they do the majority of the work themselves. It can also lead to cumbersome backtracking to fix issues that could have been avoided through closer communication between the Product Owner and the development team.

A near shore model may be the best solution for cost-friendly delivery that can be successful within Agile framework. With a near-shore approach, time zones are not an issue and collaboration can still exist through face-to-face weekly meetings, video conferences and daily phone calls. Moreover, North American IT consultants tend to possess more business acumen as they have an average of 10 to 15 years of experience, and are accustomed to interacting with client management to ensure business goals are achieved.


Progressive companies will evaluate the risks and rewards of an outsourcing model to determine the best means of getting their IT initiatives accomplished. IT always seeks ways to reduce costs while ensuring quality deliverables. Many IT leaders jump at the chance to leverage an off-shore model due to the attractiveness of price. However, the price of labor is just one component of the total costs of ownership. When project management, detailed analysis and consistent communication are critical components to a job, such as high-end QA testing, custom application development or data architecture, an off-shore model may not provide the best solution. For projects that require high visibility, individual accountability and frequent collaboration, a near-shore Agile model is far more likely to produce the optimal blend of cost reduction, speed and overall product quality.