Quickstart guide for developing your software or digital product abroad

Author Ivan Brozović
Category Company
Date Mar 28, 2019
18 min read

With the right setup, hiring a development company from another country can enable you to grow your business faster and be more efficient when it comes to creating, upgrading and maintaining your product or software.

As a company that’s mostly working for clients that come from abroad (UK and USA companies make more than 80% of all our clients), we know how to handle the challenges of remote development and constantly work on upgrading our processes that enable all of our clients to feel like we’re not even working remote. But, we also know that a lot of our first-time clients are worried about entrusting their product into the hands of a remote team.

The questions we hear the most are:

  1. How will you be able to understand my idea if we’re not together?
  2. How will you make sure everything is done on time?
  3. And on budget?
  4. We’re 9 time zones apart. How will we communicate?
  5. Are you even skilled enough to create what I imagined?

These are all valid questions. I mean, wanting to keep a tighter grip on a project you invested your own money and time in is a natural thing to do, but I’m here to tell you there’s really no need to worry. If you find a partner who’s experienced in remote development, skilled enough to advise you on things you aren’t as experienced in, has defined processes that are flexible enough to fit your needs and has a portfolio of successfully developed projects, you can be confident that your project will be developed just like you planned.

At Bornfight, we successfully launched more than 200 projects for our clients, and through them we passed all of the phases of building a remote development company. From the initial ones where we were facing challenges we never even thought would happen to our current phase in which we can confidently predict and prevent potential issues that could happen during the production process.

But, talking about remote development is not the same as doing remote development, so I’ll take you through a few aspects that are really important for every remote development process.

Initial setup

The first important aspect is actually the first step the agency takes in the entire process. If you’re looking to hire a company to develop your product, they need to get to know you, your company and the way your business works.

When we come into contact with a client, whether they contact us through our web form or a referral, the first thing we do is set up a meeting. Sometimes we schedule a call, sometimes we visit the client’s office, sometimes they come to our HQ. We like to be flexible when it comes to this, so we always give our clients multiple options. It wouldn’t be the first time we flew to the US to meet a client before we even formally sealed the deal.

As the goal of this initial step is to learn as much about the clients and their businesses as possible, we want to make sure we aren’t limited by any outside factors. We want to learn more about their short-term and long-term business plans, issues and challenges they face, what they did to try and solve them, basically anything that might help us better define the project – so if a client thinks that might be easier through a real, face to face meet, let’s do it, if they want a call, that’s also OK. Since the technology is so good right now, more and more of our clients prefer we set up a call for this initial meeting. All of the available messaging tools like Skype and Hangouts allow us to basically have a face to face meeting, and it doesn’t even matter that we might be 12 time zones apart.

After this initial meeting, we always organize a couple more meetings in order to fully define the scope of the project and the main goals that need to be achieved, as well as all of the deliverables. After we have that information, we focus on internal meetings where we organize a production team that will spearhead the project and create a plan for that specific project.

There are usually 2 paths this could go forward. If a project is of a smaller scope, has all of its aspects defined and the client knows exactly how it needs to look, feel and perform – we define the timeline and the budget that needed to deliver the project. When the client agrees upon it, we start working.

If, on the other hand, the project is much larger, more complex or the scope cannot be clearly defined, we enter the discovery process together with the client. This process usually starts with a workshop that’s done on site – our office or our client’s office (whatever the client finds more suitable). During this workshop, we gather all members of our team that will work on the project as well as all members of the client’s team, and define all of the aspects of the project during those 2 to 5 days of intense meetings. When the workshop is done and we have defined the scope of the project, then we switch over to creating the timeline and defining the budget.

This workshop allows us to be fully transparent with our clients, so they know exactly what we’ll do over the next 6 months or 12 months or sometimes even more, and what they’ll pay for it.

Overall flexibility

OK, before I dig deeper into the specifics of the discovery phase and the discovery workshop, let me just focus a bit on the travel that we briefly mentioned in the section above.

As a company that mostly works for clients that are situated abroad, we most frequently travel to the USA and the UK, but in the last year we also made a number of trips to the Middle East, Spain, France and Canada. So yeah, arranging meetings and travelling to other countries isn’t a problem, and we now practically do it on a regular basis.

But, just as we visit other countries, our clients and partners regularly visit our office.
For example, Performance Fact Inc. from California, a company that focuses on developing strategies for US school districts, has been our client for a couple of years now, and for them we developed and maintain their Eye on the Goal digital product.

So, how did this partnership start? Well, soon after we got in touch with each other, we figured out the scope of the project was too large to define without a detailed research and a workshop, so we sent our project managers, designers and developers to the US, where they spent an entire week with the client – going over the specifics of their business, learning about the US school system and defining what needs to be done. That happened more than 2 years ago and was the basis of our growing partnership, as well as the Eye on the Goal tool we built around the information we got during that visit.

And then a year ago, Mutiu, the CEO of Performance Fact visited our office to meet all of us. So, as I mentioned a couple of times now, this flexibility is key – whether we talk about processes or something as simple as traveling to another country for a meeting.

Discovery workshop

OK, now let’s get back to the discovery workshop and its specifics.

As I already said in the previous sections, we organize discovery workshops to fully define the projects we’ll work on, and we do it by holding a couple of intense meetings during the course of a couple of days. One of the questions we usually get from clients when we say we need to do the workshop is: ”Shall we do it at your office or ours? Is there even any difference?”. Well, there’s no difference – the setup is completely the same. The only thing that’s different is the location.

The only thing we need to define before the workshop is the exact type of project, so we can fully define the team that will be on the workshop. If we’re talking about a mobile app, we’ll bring our mobile specialists, if we’re talking custom software, we’ll bring our senior developers…you get the point!

Why do we do it? When clients come to me with this question, I always say it as it really is:

Our team is the best at design, development and creating digital solutions that can help our clients grow their businesses. You, on the other hand, are the best at knowing what your company does, what it wants to achieve, about the industry you’re working in and the industry trends. That knowledge is invaluable, and if we want to create an amazing product, we need to combine our skills with your knowledge.

This knowledge and the process of exchanging and merging ideas during the discovery process is what makes this collaboration between a client and a development agency work. It not only brings us closer to defining and delivering the right product for our client’s business, but it also connects our two companies. After the workshop, people working on projects are not just job titles and emails, they are now people with faces who know each other, who know what each person thinks about the project and where their expertise lies.

As I said before, this whole workshop is very intense. There are a couple of days filled with meetings and when the day is over, there’s “homework”, or more specifically, preparation for the next day. The intensity of the workshop is why we prefer to do it together and face-to-face, rather than over Skype or some other conference tool. I mean, it can be done, but it’s much more difficult because the interaction between people is much lower and the attention span of a person sitting in front of a computer is much shorter.

If “Skype workshops” are our only option, we actually prefer to turn them into a 14 day sprint where we have a short 1-2 hour skype call with the client to define a couple of aspects and then we move on to other things. This approach is much easier to handle and gives much better results than what conducting a standard discovery workshop over Skype ever did.

On the other hand, when we do discovery workshops with clients in person, there’s a lot of activity, the energy is high, discussions are much more electric – there are a lot of jump ins, we draw stuff on the board, we laugh, we argue, we negotiate. All in all, the environment it’s fully amped, and that alone can make those 8 hours pass before you know it.

When all of this is done, we give our clients a blueprint with a fully defined scope of the project. This blueprint is extremely detailed, so the clients can take them to any development company (if they for any reason don’t want to continue working with us) and they can be sure that everyone will know exactly what they need to create.

Full experience

Since I’m talking about getting to know the client, initial meetings and discovery workshops, I have to digress for a second and mention the entire experience that surrounds the production of the project, especially the part where our clients visit our HQ in Zagreb.

Besides delivering the final product in a way that will enable our clients to improve their businesses, we also want to make sure they feel good and have a great experience. That’s why we go above and beyond to get them to know what we’re all about.

You see, our Croatian mindset and hospitality is something you have to experience. Where I’m from, people might not have enough for themselves, but when guests arrive, they’ll give them everything. That sounds funny, but it really is like that. That’s also why we always like to help our clients when they visit us and we want to make sure they have everything they need. At the end of the day, one of the goals of the discovery process is also to strengthen the bonds between our companies so we can tackle the project as one large team.

The thing is, we always look at projects from two sides. The first is that professional side that focuses on delivering the things we agreed upon, on time and on budget. And the second side is the personal one, which is all about creating a partnership, sometimes even friendship with our clients.

This second side is the center of this full experience aspect, as I called it. We’ll help the client book a hotel room, or Airbnb if they prefer it. We’ll make sure they explore Zagreb and everything it has to offer, see the sights, try local food and generally have fun. We’ll even go to the seaside, sometimes even the mountains – that’s the beauty of Croatia. The country is small, so you stay at the capital, but you can reach every part of it in a couple of hours. I mean, what’s the point of visiting Croatia if you stay inside the whole time – we’ll create the timeline so we have enough time to do the work part of the discovery process, but also to have enough time to show you around.

Sometimes we end up exploring the nature, sometimes we go clubbing and get home at five in the morning. Whatever we do, it’s always entertaining!

Communication and tools

We talked about communication and different tools in previous sections, but now’s the time to fully focus on it as good and organized communication between an agency and a client is a must when it comes to successfully managing and guiding a project towards the launch. I mention good communication as one of these important aspects because at Bornfight we usually don’t send our people to work together with our client’s team in their office while the project is in production.

You see, we don’t prefer that type of outsourcing as we invest a lot into providing our people with the best working environment, support and benefits right here at our office. That’s also the only way we can make sure they have everything they need to successfully complete all of their tasks, which ultimately leads to better digital solutions for our clients.

So, what does this client-agency communication look like? Well, during the initial process of defining the scope of the project and expectations from both sides, one of the topics we also talk about with the client is the way we’ll handle communication during the development phase of the project. And again, we’re extremely flexible – as we often have more experience in handling communication on these types of projects that involve remote development, we’ll show our clients a couple of different options that would go well with the project at hand, but the final setup is, of course, tailored to their needs. As I already said, we want the client to feel almost like we’re sitting next to each other in the same office. Some clients and projects need a more hands-on approach, so we organize daily calls with clients, while for some we organize only 1 meeting per month. It all boils down to the needs of the specific project and client preferences.

The same is true for the tools we use. Email, Skype and Slack are our go-to tools for messaging, while Teamwork is the main tool we use for project management, but some clients prefer to use other tools they’re more familiar with. And that’s perfectly fine by us, as long as we define which tools will be used for official project communication, and which will be used for unofficial. I can’t stress enough how important that is when you’re working on a project that lasts for 12 months and sometimes has more than 10 people involved from both sides. It can get pretty chaotic and important information can get misplaced if you don’t strictly define what tools will be used for what specific purpose.

Another thing that frequently pops up when we talk about communication is the time difference. We are in Croatia and our time zone is UTC +1, we have a lot of clients on the US west coast and they are UTC -8, some of our other clients are in Australia and they are UTC +10. Handling and calculating different time zones might seem a little bit chaotic, and I have to be honest, sometimes it really can be challenging, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a little bit of organization and some flexibility.

There were days when I had to both come to work a couple of hours early and stay a couple of hours late because of the calls I scheduled with clients, but those situations are really rare. Time difference between our clients and us is a real thing – that’s a fact we can’t change. But we can find workarounds!

We usually schedule meetings and calls when our working hours overlap. If that’s not possible, the teams that work on certain projects shift their working hours to get those couple of overlapping hours. For example, we’re currently working with a client that’s from Los Angeles, and with them we agreed to have a 1-hour call twice a week. This call is scheduled for 6 to 7 PM by our time zone, which is outside our working hours, so we made a setup where the team working on that project doesn’t come to the office at 9 AM like the rest, but at 11 AM. And they leave after the call, at 7 PM.

Some of our clients even prefer to shift their working hours to fit ours. One of the clients did it because he wanted the updates from our team to be the first thing his team gets in the morning, so they all started working 1 hour earlier. It’s all about being flexible and finding different ways to get those couple of hours where we overlap!

Although time difference might seem like a problem at first, both we and our clients started seeing it as a good thing because our team can work on the project while our clients sleep, so they know that they’ll always get new updates and info about the things we worked on. As we all got more experienced with remote development and defining processes to fit these types of projects, this king of setup actually proved to be more streamlined and efficient as each meeting or a call ended with a detailed description what both sides need to do before the next one.

There are a lot more examples that show how we organize communication between us and clients, but I just have to mention the situation we had with the team from the Scripps Research Institute from San Diego. We scheduled a really important call where we had to discuss the next steps for the project, and it was crucial for all the stakeholders from both their side and our side to be present. As chance would have it, a couple of key members from their team were in Europe, and one was all the way in India, so we basically had to find a time slot to organize a 4-way Skype call that literally stretched all across the world. This was certainly one of the more extreme examples of time zone differences we had to figure out a way to handle!

Another project that really shows how our communication setup is tailored to our clients is our partnership with Pvtistes from Toronto. We’ve been working with them for more than 5 years – we developed their website and a complete online platform, as well as a mobile application. What’s great about it is that the clients themselves started using our project management tool Teamwork, learned the ins and outs of the tool, and also started directly communicating with our team and add tasks through the tool, and it made our communication even more efficient because it enabled us to centralize entire project communication through one tool.

Expertise and bench strength

Another thing that’s really important for successful remote development is the team that works on a project. There are actually a couple of points within this aspect, and the first one is quality.

If you’re looking to outsource the production of your product or software to a development company, make sure you choose an agency that has experience in the field and a broad portfolio that shows what they can do. At Bornfight, we place an insane amount of focus on constantly improving the quality of our work with every project, and the awards we win for them show that we’re doing it right. I mean, we were just named the global Agency of the Year for the work we did in 2018 by one of the world’s top creative panels – that’s the direct result of making quality our top priority.

The second aspect is talent, the people that work on projects. It’s no secret that finding and keeping the best people is now harder than ever because they get tons of offers from all kinds of companies. I have to say that we’re in a good position because we haven’t had that problem due to being recognized on the market as one of the top employers that invests heavily in employees and their benefits. We won the Croatian Employer of the Year award for a couple of years in a row, and that’s a good proof that all of our efforts to create the best working environment and opportunities for our people has been paying off.

That is also an enormous plus for our clients because of, what I like to call, bench strength. You see, the development phase on a majority of the projects we work is longer than 6 months, and a lot of them are even longer than 1 year. So, if any of our people go on vacation or have to be absent for a longer period of time, there are always people who can jump in and take over the project, so there’s practically no slowing down. Our clients can enjoy that kind of stability and continuous progress throughout the course of our partnership.

The final aspect is the quality to price ratio. When it comes to quality, our designers and developers are among the top, and the work they produce speaks for itself. When it comes to price, we most certainly aren’t among the cheapest markets in the world – far from it. But, we are also not the most expensive ones. I would say we’re in that sweet spot that can make sure our clients get the maximum quality for a price that will in the end feel fair, and enable them to further grow their business and achieve positive ROI.

Product launch

Another important element is the process of officially launching a product. A development agency needs to make sure it goes through as smoothly as possible, regardless of project complexity. You see, some projects can be launched by literally pushing a button, but some need a whole team on a completely new remote location. And they need to be able to handle the launch process, as well as any additional challenges that might occur.

In 2018, we actually had two extremely big projects that had us going to remote locations and installing large interactive installations by connecting the applications we created to the hardware that was on location. One of them was supposed to be plug and play and proved to be much more complex, while the other was supposed to be as complicated as possible so we made sure we had everything in check.

For the first one, we had to go to the SeaLife aquarium in Paris and install a couple of applications into their newly-opened wing that focused on penguins. One of the applications enabled users to use touchscreen controls to move cameras inside the penguin enclosure. As I said, it was supposed to be plug and play – the hardware was already there and all our developers had to do was install the application. But when they did it, the hardware that connected to the application reversed all of the controls.

In the end, our developers stayed in Paris for 5 days instead of 2 in order to fix the issue and all was good. But while they were fixing the application on site, they had full assistance from all of our other developers that stayed in our Zagreb HQ, and I’m certain this flexible setup made fixing the problem much faster.

The other project I talked about was the development of 33 interactive installations for the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre in Kuwait – currently the largest museum complex in the world. For this one, we designed and developed all applications in Zagreb and then sent the team to Kuwait to install them on site. They went to Kuwait 2 times and stayed there for a total of 28 days while everything was installed and launched. On a project of this scale, we had to closely work with a number of other software and hardware companies that were involved, and that was especially true when we all met on site and actually connected all of the components.

At that time, the museum was practically a large construction site and we all had to wear hard hats – that was also a completely new experience for all of us. But the setup was similar to the one we had at the SeaLife aquarium – while a part of the team was working on site, they were constantly connected with our HQ team which assisted them with the entire process. And all these applications are now living in that museum, and thousands of people use them and play on them every day.

So, as I said in the beginning, remote development and launching a project isn’t a big deal if you’re working with a development agency that has the means and processes to handle all of its aspects, from going to locations and installing the needed components to fixing issues that might occur and making sure everything is and stays operational.

One word – flexibility

If I were to sum all these elements I talked about, I would say that the most important aspect is flexibility. Flexibility when it comes to production processes, flexibility when it comes to tools, flexibility when it comes to communication. As I said in the beginning, the goal is to make the client feel like we’re in the same office, and not like we’re 12 time zones apart. This is the approach that enables us to successfully and efficiently collaborate and work with clients across the world.

You see, one of the core values of Bornfight is the drive to solve problems. We love working with clients in order to define the exact challenges, issues and problems they’re facing. But, those problems come in all shapes and sizes, and when you think about it logically, there’s no way to use the same process or follow the same steps to reach the ideal solution. That’s why we make flexibility the basis of everything we do – from simple situations when clients ask us to move the call we arranged a few hours later because something came up and using a specific project management tool because they’re more familiar with it, to complex things like changing the steps in our development and project management process because it might suit the current project better. Of course we can!

I’d have to say this approach is one of the elements that sets us apart from other companies, but it also forces us to constantly learn and improve the quality of our work as almost every new project comes with a new problem that needs to be solved. So yeah, flexibility and not giving up when faced with seemingly unsolvable challenges is the name of the game when it comes to remote development!
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We’re available for partnerships and open for new projects. If you have an idea you’d like to discuss, share it with our team!

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