Working with an outsourced development partner can be incredibly productive. However, this is not the easiest task, as it takes effort to make an outsourced relationship work. Managing complex technical projects within your internal team has its own stresses, but when you expand your efforts to include partners in different time zones or on another continent altogether, new stresses can arise. You’ll likely need to adapt to cultural, time and work style differences.
As if managing a team to work productively and achieve the results you want wasn’t hard enough, outsourcing can further complicate things. So considering all of these challenges, how can project managers and team leaders keep outsourced teams on track and on budget? Following are six helpful suggestions to ensure that every outsourced engagement is successful.
1. Invest in the Outsourced Relationship
In other words, treat your partner like a partner. If you treat your outsourcing partner as an equal, they are likely to work harder for you. They might feel inclined stay late so they have longer workday overlap with you, or forego their own national holidays to work to your schedule. Empathize with how hard they work to meet your needs rather than point a finger of blame.
Get to know them. Treating your outsourced software development team members like true partners will make them feel like they’re not just a hired vendor. If you both show an appreciation and respect for one another, it will show in your final product. Take the time to get to know the members of your new team, whether through video conference or other means, put faces to names, and find out what makes them tick.
When managing offshore team members, it’s easy to simply discuss what needs to be done, and then proceed to jump off the call and end your chat. When you’re on tight deadlines or just need to have a quick meeting, that approach is definitely best; but that shouldn’t be all you do. Make time for small talk to get to learn more about your remote employees on a personal level and build a rapport with them. You could ask them about their family and friends, or talk about the latest sports news in their country or other interesting events. A little social connection can go a long way for a happy team.
Additionally, a visit to their country and office will be an investment of time and money that will pay off in major ways. The time you spend over dinner with your partner team will provide new means to get to know your new team members and understand their culture and how they work. You could also bring them to your onshore office for the same reasons. If you get the chance to meet each other in person, it will create a deeper sense of rapport and understanding. We believe teams should try to meet face-to-face at least once a year to further solidify the all-important relationships that help make teams tick.
For a nice gesture of thanks, you could even send your partner some swag, such as t-shirts and other accessories branded with your company’s name or logo, or some American memorabilia. This will help them feel more connected to your team and not overlooked by the headquarters office that may have people wearing swag on video chats all the time. Send them things that they can give to their family members, too. Plus, swag for the whole family is usually a crowd pleaser that gets shared.
Treat your partners as you would a team member in the next room. Do this, and you will have the foundation for a healthy and effective team. This mindset makes for better collaboration and is simply good business. Basically, treat your partner like the partner you expect them to be, and they will be.
2. Over-communicate with Your Offshore Partner
Effective communication, especially with new or off-site employees, is key to creating a more efficient, productive and profitable project. However, much can be lost without the intimacy of direct communication. And without good communication, barriers can arise between your on-site employees and your partners an ocean away.
Making outsourcing work depends on the skill of the people both offshore and within your organization. You must put processes in place and use special tools to minimize those difficulties. You should try to use video as much as you can. When you don’t see someone in the office every day, having some type of visual clue as to how they are feeling or thinking is essential. Video chatting regularly will help you both develop clear, explicit expectations and goals.
With so many inexpensive and free solutions for video chat (like Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangout) there’s no reason not to take advantage of the technology whenever possible. While not perfect, these tools add a dimension to interaction.
But when communicating with your overseas team, remember to be sensitive to any language and/or cultural barriers. For instance, try not to speak English incredibly fast to a non-native speaker.
Also, take time to hear folks out—speak less and listen more.
3. Understand Your Outsourcing Partner’s Culture
Attempt to understand your partner’s culture as soon as you begin working together. Read up on their country, its history and its politics to sensitize yourself and be open about your own. Awareness of cultural differences is the first step to avoiding miscommunication and other business missteps.
Understanding how your vendor communicates and their work culture is just as important. This will provide vital groundwork for optimal collaboration. Identifying cultural and language differences will help you both address issues before they can cause any problems.
Keeping all of this in mind, businesses should also begin by looking for a compatible partnership. Companies that seem to have a similar culture and mindset will certainly make things easier on both parties.
4. Be Systematic with Offshore Engagements
It’s important to balance inconvenience. Once you begin adding offshore employees, it won’t be long before you have people across multiple time zones. This can make scheduling meetings a real challenge. Set up multiple short meetings every week, create a schedule and stick to it.
Make sure to document projects, track and follow up from start to finish. Several products like Atlassian, Trello and Google Sheets can be used to improve development, product management and collaboration for organizations and teams of any size. Collaboration tools are a great way to ensure optimum work is produced.
Many offshore development management teams find the Agile development method to be successful. It accommodates changes to your software development engagements smoothly and even embraces them. I write extensively about the method in my book, Software Without Borders. The Agile method is ideal for instilling good communication and fruitful collaboration.
Read more about the Agile development method here.
5. Start Small & Build Momentum with Outsourced Engagements
Develop a broader vision for your current engagement, and take time to explain how it fits into your longer-term goals. Begin by running one or more pilot projects to get the communication kinks worked out. It’s also important to build in time for feedback and process improvement for each task and project that are part of the overall engagement.
Consciously explain the goals and requirements of your engagement every step of the way. Keep in mind: over-communicating is one of the most important things you can do to keep every task on-track and in line with your company’s expectations.
6. Make Use of Technology with Virtual Partners
Keep in mind that technology will be one of the most important and useful things to employ when working with your offshore team members, but it will not solve all of your problems. Atlassian, Trello, Slack and Skype are all great communication and collaboration tools for scheduling, sharing information and tracking the progress of projects. On the other hand, having too many tools can be cause for confusion and platform fatigue (“now, where was that final version of the last project saved?”), so only employ the tools that are really essential to your team and goals.
Every outsourced engagement has its challenges, and having part of your team on the opposite side of the world only intensifies them. Knowing what to expect when working with your outsourcing development partner will help you avoid misunderstandings and keep projects on track. If you heed the guidelines described above, there is no reason the experience can’t be a positive one for everyone involved.
It's really about establishing the right business culture for creating excellent software. One of the strengths of the Accelerance network is that we have spent time with each of our partners in their locales. At Accelerance, we evaluate each of our partners to ensure they have the right culture for our clients, which we look for during our certification process.
We know that keeping your team and engagement on track is no small feat, but it is essential for achieving your business goals. We understand the importance of having an outsourcing team that understands this as well. At Accelerance, our software outsourcing experts work hard to find you the best teams to work with anywhere in the world. Get to know some of our excellent partners by connecting with us through our free rapid referral process.