How to Manage an Offshore Development Team
Outsourcing. We truly are in a global economy now, and talent exists all over the planet. One of the fastest growing outsourcing activities is in IT services, specifically software development.
The StatisticBrain.com Outsourcing Statistics 2015 report tell the story:
- 43% of U.S. IT services companies now outsource and are working with offshore teams.
- 44% stated that they chose outsourcing to reduce costs.
- 34% stated it was to access IT resources not available internally.
All of the respondents stated they would continue or increase the levels of using offshore developers. They also said that successfully managing an offshore development team can be challenging but also highly successful.
What is the Best Way to Manage an Offshore Agile Development Team?
Obviously, managers know how to supervise a team effectively, when that team is local or internal. They assign a project, provide direction, and let the team go to work. They check in periodically, get progress reports, and trust that team members will do their jobs. If it’s a good team, and lines of communication remain open, all goes well.
What about working with offshore teams? Yes, there are challenges – cultural, language, socio-economic differences for a start. But in thinking about how to manage an offshore team, you must begin with the basic practices you already use for managing a local one and move out from there.
No one probably has all of the answers for the best practices for managing offshore resources, but, by looking at what currently works, you can establish an effective framework. Here are four guidelines for solid offshore team management.
Managing Offshore Teams Begins with Your Needs and a Contract
You know what you want. You’ve chosen an offshore team because it has a good reputation. Their references are great, and you have had enough initial conversations to feel good about your selection. Here’s your baseline to begin:
- Provide you product specifications. What do you want your product to do? Be really specific at this point and describe each and every term you will use, the main screens, flows and functions. Bonus point if you can prioritize all the features based on critical importance. Additionally, you may want to create simple Screencast videos to illustrate certain concepts or user flows.
- What is your timeline for development? The best option is to set delivery milestones for each critical block of features, rather than one big data for rolling out the beta version.
- What kind of post-launch support do you want if any?
If you have chosen an established firm, it has been down this road before. It will have contract templates in place, and it will be a matter of your filling in the details mentioned above. Conduct a final legal check to seal the deal and you are good to go.
How to Manage a Team Effectively: Communication is Key
Technical competence will not be an issue with your development team, even if you are non-techy person in charge of the development project. If projects do not go well, it will be because of lack of communication and mutual understanding. This means that two things have to happen:
The Offshore IT development team must clearly understand your business and its goals. They need to understand the functions and processes of your business and your customers. This doesn’t require huge amounts of training, but it does involve conversation and lots of it in the beginning. Using video chat can be an enormous help during this initial phase.
Additionally, take the time to share your target audience research and customer profiles. One of the successful offshore development practices is to have your team rally around the customer needs. In that case, you will all work with a common goal in mind and stay on the same page at all times.
Successful offshore development practices also include a “Playbook.” This should include every step of the development process, agreed upon by all of the “players.” Most software developers, including Romexsoft, agree that Agile Scrum is the preferred project management framework. In fact, the 9th Annual State of Agile report indicated that 72% of software teams use Scrum or a close hybrid. An Agile software development team will have far more successful outcomes. Check out our previous guide on building an Agile team culture within your company and using it for managing offshore teams later on.
When a good project management framework is in place, the schedule of programming is clear to everyone. The benchmarks can be set effectively. Points of reporting, testing, and discussion are established up front and everyone knows precisely what to do at each project stage.
How Are You Collaborating With and Treating Your Offshore Team?
Treatment of your offshore team is a critical piece of an effective offshore outsourcing. Do you really know how to handle an offshore team in Ukraine, for example? These are well-educated engineers, masters of their craft. Most talented developers are not in this for the money so much as they are for the creative challenges.
You also need to master the art of communication with your team on their terms. For example, developers in Southeast Asia do not like confrontation and may just go along with an idea of yours, even if it is a bad one that has to be scrapped in the end. Eastern European developers will be more blunt and honest about your bad idea, and you need to trust without taking offense.
If you deal with an established team, there is a project manager in place. Make sure you are partnering with a great communicator here, as it would be their job to ensure that your goals are understood correct, the benchmarks are set properly and all the requirements are followed.
When you have a solid partnership with a team project manager and communication is open and frequent, you will manage an offshore development team with ease.
Beating The Common Challenges of Remote Management
It’s not like your team is down the hall and you can just pop in and check on things. Your team is somewhere across the globe and in a different time zone. Hence, you will need to adopt a slightly different communicational framework.
Avoid email clutter – Good project management software (e.g. JIRA) is really the answer. You can add your comments, suggestions, and questions, rather than filling up inboxes and creating multiple threads as that’s how the crucial details get lost.
Voice/visual conversations are best for meetings. They must be carefully scheduled so that you and key members of the offshore development team are all present. Accept the fact that this may mean odd hours. They are already used to it. Set a schedule for meetings and stick to it as much as possible.
You have to find the right balance between “hovering” over the team (and becoming somewhat of a pest) and ignoring them. If you have established specific checkpoints, stick to them. And allow for some flexibility. If something has not met the schedule, find out why and move on. These are professionals, and you have to trust them.
The more facetime you can have in your communications, the more you will get to know the PM and members of the team. Frequent communication builds trust, which is essential for keeping your project on track.
Focus on the Advantages
When you get the right offshore team, and the parameters are carefully laid out, your project begins faster. And your management tasks become less cumbersome. You switch to treating the team just as if they are a competent, professional in-house group able to take a project and just go with it. Your job becomes one of staying apprised, being supportive, answering key questions, and providing approval at each stage. That’s how you build an offshore development team geared for success.
If you’re ready to try offshore software development outsourcing to a successful firm, Romexsoft may be your answer. Reach out to us and let’s have a discussion!
Written by Romexsoft on March 3th, 2017