Overcoming barriers of mind is critical in offshoring engagements. Often people get stuck with the perils of traditional thinking such as the ‘not-invented-here’, ‘too-far-from-my-bed’ and ‘us vs. them’ syndromes. This thinking saps away all the incredible potential offshoring can actually bring- a combination of top-notch skills and opportunities that can be gleaned from working with a trusted offshoring partner. It is true, of course, that offshoring brings challenges. These range from new geography, different time zones, language/dialect/accent issues and so on.
But, it is important to note that this arrangement is no different from operating out of two different cities in the same country.
Software development is a people and knowledge-centric business. The process of setting up and operating a distributed innovation involves aligning people, their knowledge and the overall business ambition of the company. Software offshoring endeavours thrive in the atmosphere of trust and transparency. It is crucial that trust is established mutually and there is no better way to accomplish this than by being honest and transparent from the very beginning. Irrespective of your location, when you create a collective ambition, people will be at their best in contribution.
In our experience, the alignment from the people perspective precedes all other elements. In the early days of software offshoring, certain practices were followed, perhaps in relation to time and possibilities, that did not help explore all the benefits of the offshoring process. This involved:
- Unequal distribution of work: Unfair decisions on who does routine and mundane work and who gets to work on the cutting-edge aspects of the task at hand
- ‘Us vs them’ culture: Passing the buck quickly to the other side and focusing on "who" rather than "what" in cases of failures
- Fire fighting attitude: "Let me jump into the airplane and fix things”
- Task management: Lack of percolation of ownership coupled with a very distant sense of purpose
In order to make teams work in a geographically distributed setup, it is important to let teams feel each other’s pulse. The best way to achieve this is by allowing team members from all locations to meet face-to-face once in a while. Just as a picture says a thousand words, in-person meetings will work more wonders than a well documented communication process.
From a practical stand point, this can be implemented quite easily. At coMakeIT, we call this process Shuttle Diplomacy. It comprises the following key stages:
- When the teams are in their forming stage, certain management staff and key team members should be involved in the selection of offshore team members. This will help improve acceptability amongst members.
- Next, we implement what we term as 'shuttle diplomacy' between the teams. Offshore team members travel during the seeding stage to get acquainted with their counterparts and engage in a knowledge transfer process.
- When the teams start to perform, some of the senior colleagues should visit the offshore teams, at least a couple of times in a year, to interact and learn from each other for improvement.
- Executive management must pay close attention to the offshore teams,otherwise they lose connection with the business and the ambition. A townhall or an all hands meet, once a year is highly recommended for the chief executive, during the visit of their offshore teams.
- Most importantly, it is worth investing in communication tools for video conferencing. They are very powerful in strengthening and intensifying the existing connection.