So, you have decided you are going to outsource your software development to an offshore team, but now it becomes clear that this is very different from managing in-house staff. Whilst it can be a daunting prospect for those embarking on the activity for the first time it is manageable and many successful companies do it well to exploit the expertise and efficiency afforded by an offshore development team.
Looking at how these successful organizations have operated in recent years will guide you on the best practice for getting the most out of your development team for your project.
The key to any successful management is communication. Clear, concise and accurate communication to employees, whether they are in-house or outsourced is fundamental in ensuring cohesion and a collaborative effort towards your businesses goals.
The most effective way to attain excellent communication skills across your organization is to ensure you employ a closed loop. For those of you who may not have come across this concept before it ensures that when you impart information it is understood and the acknowledgment it is understood is fed back to the originator.
In the context of managing your offshore development team, having this closed loop is vital to assure your project aims, schedule and costs are understood across both parties.
The most effective way to provide accurate information to your team is in a recognized written format, provide your communication in an agreed language and as early as possible.
Get the Whole Picture in Conflict
Almost all software development teams will admit that it is almost impossible to get things 100% right all the time. Your project will almost certainly run into some sort of issue for one reason or another.
Traditionally many suppliers would face an onslaught of blame without the whole picture being considered, one of the best examples being ThyssenKrupp who unfairly got the blame for the Challenger rocket disaster before NASA had investigated fully. When things do go wrong you must get the perspective and reasons from your vendor why it has happened, it may be something you have inadvertently done or assumed would be done.
Your reputation is important and in conflict, you are at as much risk as your vendor. Obviously, if there is blame on your outsource team, work through it pragmatically and use your contract to its full effect where there is a fiscal impact.
Where your offshore team is based geographically will have an impact on how you manage them. The physical location of the office must be understood and where possible you should make the effort to visit your vendor.
Clearly, the ability to outsource around the globe has many benefits in respect to costs and skill sets. It does however potentially bring problems where time zone differences are great. For example, an organization based on the Eastern seaboard of the US outsourcing to Delhi must cope with a 9.5-hour time difference. To overcome the time zone difference you must plan meetings well in advance to ensure availability of key stakeholders. Contracting with teams who are available to use video conferencing such as Skype aides meeting management.
Of course, there are other aspects to where an is based and one vitally important area to manage is the fiscal and tax system in which they operate. You need to ensure your outsource team is au fait with processing payments and tax deductions for exporting their services. You should manage payments and contracts through a blockchain, this not only simplifies the process but allows complete transparency.
Throughout the relationship with your vendor, you should make every effort to understand the cultural differences in their country. Without undertaking this research or being aware of sensitivities you may find yourself inadvertently offending your offshore team, or worse, breaking local laws.
Your government will produce leaflets and other paraphernalia advising how to do business with organizations in different countries, you should read these and seek further advice when you are unclear or information appears ambiguous.
Once you understand differences that may affect your relationship you should openly engage with your team to work through any conflict. For example, some religions have large gatherings or holidays and your outsource team may not be at work, you should try to accommodate this and not have key milestones through that period or shortly afterward.
Continuous Quality Improvement
As your project develops it is vital you manage the quality pragmatically. Your vendor is extremely skilled but things can always be improved in regards to their service and indeed your own operation as well as the product itself.
Throughout the relationship, you should embed the Kolb learning circle. This simple but effective methodology forces you to “Do, Review, Learn and Apply”. In simple terms everytime you undertake an activity review how it has gone and see where improvements could be made. Try the activity again and see if it did improve things.
The Kolb learning cycle is particularly useful in your software development, for example when you review a milestone in your project you may find it would have been useful to provide some data earlier or that a different application would have facilitated payment better. With this improvement process you can try the alternative the next time and see how that went, if it went well, then great, if not, you repeat the process and try something else.
As we can see, there are a variety of different activities you can undertake to manage your offshore development team effectively, communication and relationship management are particularly key and define a good manager.