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A Roadmap To Outsourcing Software
By John Rigby
Rent a Coder Buyer

    More than two decades of being the “interface” between different cultures in international trade development, taught me that it is usually the fear of the unknown which creates most problems and nowhere more so than in a high technology situation.

    If you have decided to use the services of a contract programmer, first thing to do is find a middleman! If you are reading this on Rentacoder, you have found one, if not, go there first.

    You do need a bridge over the sometimes, awesome gulf between Geekdom and Userdom. Just as if you were traveling through a strange land, you are foolish if you don’t go prepared and that means with a good map and some idea of the conditions on the way. Long before you set out on the often very enlightening and beneficial journey of hiring contractors, you need to be very specific about what your requirements are and here are a few tips on making this easy for you:
  1. Make three lists: What you MUST have, what you could do without and a “wish list” – the sort of thing that would seem to you to be too difficult/expensive.
  2. Draw exactly what you want on paper – like a Ledger, in fact use Ledger paper.
  3. If possible, either draw the type of screen you want to see, or pick another program whose screen (interface) you like and use that as a guide for your programmer.

    The key is to remember that computerization is supposed to automate repetitive tasks. Computers are lousy at one-off things. They are good at gathering and presenting lots of data easily. The least used and understood function of computerization is effective use of report functions.

    Here is where your programmer can help, but only with his usually very limited knowledge of real-world business and probably zero knowledge of yours. If you don’t know exactly what you want, how can he?

    He SHOULD know about “tolerance reporting”, but may not. This is setting up your program so that it automatically reports a warning if for example, stock falls below a certain level (calculated by you as the normal delivery time plus twenty percent, of placing a stock order divided by sales per that period.)
Or, when advance rental sales report below average for the current trading period for your Car Rental business, so that you can put out a “special” to fill the gap.

    So, first things first, what overall information do you need to know instantly?
(Stock levels, e.g.)

  • Reporting: How many times have we had breakdowns in the field on which rental vehicles?
  • What is the monthly cost of vehicle number 23 expressed per sold days?
  • Which vehicles are due/overdue for servicing?
  • Which vehicles are renting best? (Why?)
  • Report by make, size, or type.
  • What is the BASIC procedure for you to set up a rental transaction, step-by-step?
  • What can go wrong with the procedure? (I only want a red Toyota)
  • What could add to the process? (The famous MacDonald’s add-on “ Want Fries with that?” which added 10% to the bottom line of net profits.

    Every hour spent at this phase is worth ten later on.

  • Negotiate with your contractor for an update, as distinct from fixes.
  • The closer you get to writing down every single requirement, the better it will be for you both.
  • Establish the fixed period for product ready. Have an install date and mean it. It goes without saying that the more room you give your contractor, the better.
  • Stay in touch. This doesn’t mean badgering him, it means very quickly responding to his queries and test runs.
  • Don’t get mad. Ever.
  • If you aren’t making headway with him, call in the referee/umpire. Remember what I said in the second paragraph? Talk to the umpire first. Explain the situation without added color and you might be surprised at how easily it all gets back on track. (editor's note: You can contact the facilitator at any time with a difficult coder at

As someone who has lived on both sides of the table, let me leave you with the one thing every I.T. pro learns early:

Never, ever say, “That’s easy, will only take 5 minutes”, or “just watch this”. There are more exceptions than rules when dealing with computers, but without them, how would all those incompetent people be able to go get Big Time Jobs?

Last hint: Look at the Accounting program you now use: criticize it and write down its annoyances.

  • Like not putting in the date automatically.
  • When you make an error and backtrack it has thrown out everything you’ve already entered.
  • Like not automatically spacing for Credit Card number insertion or manual dates.
  • Like not having defaults wherever possible AND NO WAY FOR YOU TO EASILY ADD THEM.
  • Like not automatically moving to the next line when it has a fixed entry set. ( Y or N)
  • Like not asking the questions in a logical sequence on screen – the way you do, naturally.

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