Build an Offshore Software Development Team That Won’t Blow
Offshoring is a product of globalisation. As Plunkett Research puts it, basically offshoring is the process prevalent “among many U.S., Japanese and Western European firms to send both knowledge-based and manufacturing work to third-party firms in other nations. Often, the intent is to take advantage of lower wages and operating costs”. IT services particularly software development has witnessed the strongest growth in offshoring activities in the recent decades.
The Statistics from 2015 reports 43% of U.S. IT services firms now outsource and are working with offshore teams primarily to reduce costs and access the larger talent pool. The respondents clearly mentioned their intent to continue and in fact some contemplated to raise the levels of employing offshore developers. However, they admitted managing an offshore development team effectively can be a big challenge but it is doable.
Understandably, managing an offshore software development project can be an overwhelming experience more so if you are new to offshoring. Tackling issues of overseas teams in different time zones and with tangentially different cultural backgrounds and language nuances can be a daunting task. Arguably, the competencies of a manager to build a winning team are put to test here in an environment that lacks the comfort of face-to-face interactions. S/he can overcome the challenges of offshoring with a team, both offshore and onsite, that works through the issues in unison towards the common purpose successfully.
Some firms have magnificently managed their offshore teams getting timely deliveries, almost zero percent downtime and high quality products. However, many start-ups who take the offshoring route for the software development needs fail miserably. The solution to this seems elusive to founders of these companies. They don’t seem to wrap their head around the issue of how to manage an offshore development team sitting halfway across the globe with cultural differences increasing complexities.
Here is a definite guide to build an offshore software development team that will not blow.
1. Work as a Single Delivery Team
The project manager has to ensure there is no onsite-offsite divide. Usually, in a setup involving offshoring the delivery team comprises of two distinct pieces ‘onsite’ and ‘offsite’ bound by a vendor-customer contract. This leads to strong perceptions of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ whenever accountability and productivity issues crop up. But as a project manager it is critical to remove this view and make the teams work on the project as a single delivery team. The onsite team and offshore team has to work in unison towards achieving the project goals. Addressing the team as ‘we’ instead of you will work wonders in fostering an environment of honesty, accountability ad high productivity despite different time zones and cultures.
2. Do not Play Customer
Avoid playing the role of the “customer” to your offshore team. Despite having a vendor-customer contract with your offshore vendor or a team sitting miles away, it is in best interest of the company to work as a team.
You have to strike a right balance between hovering over the team and ignoring them completely. You need to set certain check points, stick to those allowing a little flexibility. Go back to these and review periodically. If there is a diversion and non-delivery on the milestones it is better to find out reason for the same and move on.
You need to build a culture of trust and seamless communication. As a project manager you should strive to remove barriers in communication and pave the way for smooth interaction between stakeholders and the offshore team.
3. Communicate Constantly, Effectively, Proactively
In offshoring the scene is little different than the regular organizational set up. The project manager can just not go check things across the hall as the team is sitting somewhere in another part of the globe in a different time zone. An altogether different communication structure needs to be developed.
The project team manager should proactively share the information regarding important decisions. If info is disseminated in a rather informal manner or setting then chances are a lot of time is wasted till every member of the team is on board. Instead it would in interest of the project delivery team that crucial decisions are made accessible through a corporate guide or some sort of wiki which is promptly updated for any changes. Additionally, encourage your team to use hacks like setting email notifications for groups, mails or pages which are critical to the project.
Building a cohesive team warrants free flow of information and constant, continuous and effective communications. However, it is best to avoid email clutter. Usually with multiple threads there is a bigger chance of vital information loss, information duplication leading to confusion and chaos. Alternatively. Adding suggestions, comments, queries and other notes could be added to a core file using some effective project management software.
Constant updates to your remote team keeps them motivated and project on track. Schedule regular conference calls keeping in mind the time difference and ensuring maximum participation of key members from all side. Odd hours will be inevitable therefore stick with a regular schedule of conference calls so team members are better prepared to attend.
Voice and visual conversations are best for communications. A long video conference with the team with increased facetime means you get to know the remote team better and vice versa. Regular communication builds trust, improves efficiency and boosts morale which is necessary for keeping your project on track.
4. Celebrate Success Together
Any recognition of efforts is a reward which has tremendous effect on boosting morale of teams. Traditionally, it is well known management technique which could be effectively applied to your offshore as well as onsite teams. Sharing credit for accomplishing milestones with your offshore team will give them a feeling of belonging.
The offshore firm might have its own reward system but if the onsite team appreciates their efforts that adds a dimension of bonhomie and creates good harmonious work culture. Send congratulatory mails, and share success stories with your offshore team giving them due credit. This, however, should not mean that you overlook the negatives. Quality of the product ad the project should never be compromised at any given point in time. Obviously all the tasks and responsibility of software development are shared between the local and offshore teams, therefore rewards and appreciation should be shared equally between the two as well.
5. Build Good Relationship with Offshore Managers
As a software development project manager you should know your offshore team and their style of working. You can bring best practices to the table and share with them. You can brainstorm with the offshore leadership if any hurdle is hit during the project development cycle. But do not try to micro-manage. Instead build relationships with the delivery head, and other operations manager, Quality team and other managers. If you need to introduce changes to the project then go through them. Their support is imperative for the success of your project. Minimize the friction in setting up the development environment. Therefore, Building a good working relationship with the offshore senior managers is critical.
Always remember the thumb rule – praise in public and criticize in private. For minor hiccups at individual level could be addressed through mails. If needed escalate to the offshore leadership so that they can get involved. It never hurts to send an occasional email to an individual team member or to the team asking about a sticky problem and how the team managed to solve. It only goes in your favour and humanizes your role in the eye of an offshore development team. Building and fostering personal connections instils trust, minimizes missed expectations and eases self-organization. All these efforts goes a long way in building a rocking remote team!
Sohel is a software engineer by profession and a tech writer by passion, he writes about the latest technologies and latest applications and he has shared his experience and lots of innovative ideas at various technology blogs. You can follow him on LinkedIn.