Many companies resort to offshore development to implement new solutions or add resources to meet project goals. Politics aside, there are great financial benefits in doing so – cheaper work force that can be scaled up and down as projects ramp up or slows down into maintenance mode.
The downside, however, is that the resources hired are still not part of the team. They are hired guns which more often than not tremendously increase the management effort necessary to keep the project moving. Let’s bring it into the open and talk about topics that are often being overlooked.
Every company says culture is important. It’s vital for alignment of company goals with employee’s personal goals. This makes everyone go in the same direction solving problems and reaching objectives. Trouble with offshore development teams is that they sense very little of that culture that the company describes. Communication challenges along can be an entirely separate topic. But even when communication is great many internal challenges exist.
Offshore consultants may believe in the mission and be inspired and feeling proud working on a project for a major world recognized brand. Yet, their success is typically not tied with the success of the company. Employees may get bonuses for successful project execution and will work extra time to get things done. Offshore consultants typically work even longer, especially if they are distant and need to support company core hours and located many time zones apart in India or Europe. The main issue is that offshore consultants will not enjoy the same benefits. They will simply be observers to the success that they’ve themselves been a great part of. With lack of recognition, the job satisfaction suffers.
The client company may also not have the ability ability to promote the individual for a continuous demonstration of a job well done. While it is possible to influence the leadership of the offshore team to push the individual up the ranks earned by terrific results, it is still left up to a discretion of the offshore management.
Then, there is an issue with compensation increases. Often, offshore developers go a very long time without seeing increases despite the job well done. They may be given titles rather than compensation, and other intangibles as methods of promotion which can be quite disappointing on those projects that require extensive high pressure effort.
Having no ability to connect offshore consultants to client company success leads to loss in sensibilities. “The work is not going to go anywhere. It’s going to be there tomorrow” mindset creeps. Interestingly to note, this mindset benefits the offshore company. The longer the project goes, the more revenue it will produce for the offshore development company.
This is a perspective from the offshore consultant, but how about the perspective of the client company?
The View in Reverse
There are two roles that typically interact with offshore development teams that have the deepest insights into the daily challenges of working with offshore developers – the Product Managers and the Tech Leads.
Product Managers typically struggle with tasks being completed according to requirements. Being disconnected from clearly understanding the goals of the organization, the offshore resources often wait to be told what to do and often do not speak up often enough and timely enough if something is wrong or missing in the initial design, feature requirement, or implementation. Another issue is with timing as any turnaround of concerns from offshore resources takes days even on simple things that need just a bit of clarity.
Technical Leaders have their own challenges, which most attribute to the need for micro management. They become high touch team leaders that often end up in situation where it is easier for them to do things on their own, rather than delegate something to an offshore resource. The reason is the complex step by step process and ownership.
Tech leads first need to break things down to understand requirements, then they need to explain the design and recommendation of a solution, then they will communicate with the offshore resources completing the task on how to get task done, then they need to wait for development to be completed, and finally conduct a code review before making the task completed. Sometimes, its just easier to say “I’ll do it myself”.
What makes things worse is that Tech Leads job performance is measured directly against the ability to get things done and while the Tech Lead have very little control over the resources under his command. If the team is not strong, and trust is compromised and the responsibility lands entirely on Tech Lead’s shoulders.
Lastly, Tech Leaders typically have their own tasks they need to complete while simultaneously monitoring the job done by the team. As the team becomes deeper involved in the project, it’s not uncommon for Tech Leads to work 12-14 hour days to get things done – greatly impacting the satisfaction of working with the resources available. In this environment, the culture suffers yet again as the trust and confidence in the ability to get things done is compromised.
Is there a solution? How do you align the cultures?
Independent Self-Managed Teams
The good news is that there is a much better way to organize teams than has been continually applied in the industry to this day. The better alternative is to utilize independent self-managed teams.
These teams have their own Project Managers. The Project Managers interact with client Product Managers to gather requirements and discuss business conditions. Integrated in one single unit, the entire team speaks the same language and are co-located, which makes it much easier to problem solve and collaborate. On the other hand, having a client facing Product Manager in front of the client provides for a buffer necessary to shield the team from unnecessary back and forth requirement clarification discussions and direct access to developers who can retain their focus on completing their current tasks.
Once the Product folks agree with Project Managers on the tasks and work out the schedules, the Offshore Tech Leads can pick up the work and manage their immediate teams on their time zone, with transparency, and with almost instantaneous communication for clarity.
Being independent and self-managed, the culture of the Offshore team is preserved as the project goals and personal goals are aligned at the employer level. Meanwhile, the client company culture is also protected as the Product leaders discuss the project milestones and goals without drowning into the micromanagement issues and challenges working with immediate offshore development resources.
The only thing standing in the way of success at that point is simply the ability to get things done.