Vendor Selection in China

This post is a summary of vendor selection trip to China made for a purpose of s/w outsourcing initiative for a midsized product company. The main focus of the trip was “profiling” of the vendors that made on a short list after a rather involved RFP process.

Profiling involved in-depth interviews of employees ranging from Sr. PM to Jr. QA analysts. I had a chance to interview over 60 people, and I believe that I had a chance to work with a somewhat fair sampling. I would expect that if employees were selected for interview completely randomly I would have the same professional skills ratings but English skills ratings would be substantially lower.

The table below presents a summary of my view on the software teams I’ve seen during the trip. Professional skills are rated from 0 to 10; 0 means no knowledge of the key subjects, 10 means exact or above expectations for the position. English skills are rated from 0 to 10, 0 means no knowledge, 10 means fluent (strong accent, minor grammar mistakes, etc. acceptable).

Position Professional Skills English Skills Comments
Account Management 5-8 6-9 I did not interview AMs per se, I had a plenty of time to observe their work though. Skills / understanding of AM practices were not at all impressive. While the hospitality was truly commendable understanding of AM activities was far from what I would expect from professional AM / sales / presales team. In particular the ability to listen and concentrate on my needs versus out of the box presentations and sales pitches was not demonstrated.
Project Management. 4-6 5-8 I interviewed 2 PMs, 2 were dreadful, one good, the rest were
semi-decent but junior. Most of the PMs had almost no theoretical
knowledge and border-line acceptable hands-on skills; only one was PMP
certified, unfortunately he needed an interpreter to communicate. Real
hands-on PM experience was ranging from 2 to 6 years. Most of the PM in
US terms could probably be ranked somewhere between a Project
Coordinator and Junior PM.
Business Analysis. 3-5 3-7 Unacceptable. I interviewed at least 8 of them and the only one I
would possibly consider was a junior Indian girl. Most of them had
moderate English skills, but still far less than you would expect from a
BA. Their skills in written English were notably better but they really
straggled in spoken language; understanding them was a challenge as
well. Their domain expertise was not impressive even for the projects
they worked on. Functional skills such as ability to gather requirements
were very poor. Technical skills such as data modeling skills were
practically non-existent.
Junior Developers (“coders”). 3-8 4-8 Developers range from very bad to pretty good. Most of them offered
very poor theoretical skills and narrow and shallow practical. Need to
be hand-picked, but there is a large pool to draw from. I would expect a
hit ratio of 1 out of 4. I saw great deal of desire to succeed and
multitude of signs of superb work ethics.
Senior Developers (“architects”) 3-6 3-5 Very poor, most of them at best would qualify for mid-level
developers. English skills are notably worse than juniors. The more
senior the person is the more difficult s/he is to understand. The only
good guy I met (would rate highly in Silicon Valley) required an


5-6 4-7 Mediocre. Probably not self sufficient on tasks requiring dealing
with complex technical issues. They seem to be generally a combination
of a mid-level developer with a junior PM. I would say on both PM and
technical accounts they are a notch lower than I would expect in the
USA. On the other hand I saw a very strong drive / desire to succeed
which could possibly compensate to some degree for the lack of
Junior QA, Black Box 6-9 5-10 Testing skills ranging from good to very good. English at pretty
decent level (most of them came from English studies or had lived in
English speaking countries). Most of the QA analysts I interviewed
seemed to have a great personality to position match.
Junior QA, Automation 4-5 5-7 Very small pool, most of them were mediocre at best with very
limited exposure to tools. Typical “record and play back” skill set.
Most of them had a career path of black box tester to an automation
engineer (no development background).
QA, Automation
4-5 3-5 Bad. I saw only four of them though; both skills and language were
below mediocre.
QA Lead 7-8 5-8 I saw 9 QA leads and all were OK, nothing spectacular but very
focused, detailed oriented, well organized, etc. Good grasp on QA
process (very specific to the company’s process though). Understanding /
grasp of QA automation at very basic level.
General Management 5-10 6-10 Very strong business leaders with outstanding work ethics and
commendable drive. Mostly ex-pats / returnees from Western countries /
Hong Kong / Singapore. However some of them were not professionally
strong as they seem to be able to get the jobs on the raising wave of
outsourcing mainly due to their western credentials. For example one of
the execs I met was a Ph.D. in theoretical physics with no prior
consulting / sales / software experience, very smart guy with very
little experience / exposure / understanding…

One thought on “Vendor Selection in China

  1. Hey Nick, great blog. Nice to see you putting your extensive knowledge on “paper” so that others can benefit. As one of those AMs who insisted on giving you a canned presentation, I’m glad to hear the hospitality was commendable ;)

    Seriously, I think you nailed the capabilities in China. The business maturity is simply not there yet. China is a generation behind India. The only options are to wait a generation, or to substantially increase the number of expats delivering services from China.

    I’m finding that Eastern Europe is much further along the maturity curve.

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