Chief Digital Technology Officer & SVP
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Making Offshore Seem Like It's in the Town Next Door
Our world is getting flatter by the minute. For me, it's not unusual to sit in my office here in New Jersey and host a GoToMeeting® with a colleague in Vietnam. It's almost as if my associate is in an office in the next town over. Almost. And this sense of proximity leads me to what I believe to be an important message from my most recent Webinar, "How to Build a Global IT Team," -- the importance of realizing that from a distance perspective, the world is flat. However, from a communication perspective, it's a mountainous terrain.
From giant corporate enterprises to small start-ups, businesses around the world are managing global IT teams because they are leveraging offshoring to improve the efficiency and capabilities of their technology organizations. The challenge is not just managing a global team with culture and time zone differences. Offshoring success also depends on the successful integration of IT processes and vision so that the two, four, eight or however many teams that are tackling the IT project do it with shared precision and excellence.
It's true that there are several factors that can lead an offshore project to failure. Things like:
• Lack of upfront planning to avoid surprises and make sure all aspects of the engagement are covered (travel, processes, communication, expectations, etc.)
• Neglecting to obtain project buy-in from both onshore and offshore teams
• Jumping into an offshore partnership too fast without the due diligence required to get all systems set up properly
• Lacking a system for selecting appropriate projects to offshore (only 17% of those attending last week's Webinar have a defined process for selecting offshore projects). Similarly, skipping important research to determine which offshore destination best meets your needs. For example, if you're looking for a strong application development team, I'd recommend Vietnam over the Philippines. For a strong customer service component, the Philippines would be a good choice
• Neglecting to make sure both onshore and offshore teams are working with the same tools and technologies, and in a consistent software development environment
And there are myths that companies simply have a hard time getting past in order to give offshoring a try. They fear that the quality of work done offshore is inferior. As I shared in a blog just about this time last year, "Offshore Quality in Question? I'd Say It Measures Up," that is simply not the case.
However, for the many companies that have figured out how to overcome the above hurdles, communication has been fundamental to achieving their offshore success. In spite of the obvious role an effective communication strategy plays in creating a productive global IT team, there are still a good number of businesses that throw an offshore project over the fence and expect it to meet all of their expectations.
Here's my communication advice: repeat, resend and remind.
Repeat: In many instances, over communicating can be overkill. But not when it comes to offshore communication. It's so critical to make sure everyone is on the same page -- both offshore and onshore -- that communicating the same message multiple times is one safeguard to making sure everyone clearly understands the scope of a project.
Start by hosting a kick-off meeting. Whether it's held live and in-person (for high priority projects, the expense of a live meeting is often an investment that reaps high rewards), or through one of today's many virtual methods (Videoconferencing or Webinars), a kick-off meeting sets the tone for a successful offshore experience and gets all participants on the same page. Also, plan to schedule one-on-one meetings with all team members involved. This is another way to repeat and reinforce key factors of the offshore engagement, and it goes a long way in building the ever-important relationships among team members.
The more time spent up front establishing trust and commitment among the onshore and offshore team, the faster you'll sense cohesiveness and the greater the outcome will be at the end of the project. For more practical tips on offshore communications, check out the article titled, "10 Tips on How to Lead a Global Virtual Team."
Resend: The adage, "different strokes for different folks," could not be truer when it comes to offshore communication. So, re-communicating what you've identified as the key project success points in multiple ways is vital. And fortunately, in the case of offshore communication, our world has become so technical that using multiple venues to communicate remotely is fairly easy to do. A virtual, live meeting through a service like GoToMeeting is a great way to kick off a project. However, for those involved in the project whose written English is better than their spoken, follow that meeting up with an e-mail summarizing what was discussed. And, when planning one-on-one communication, try using Skype™, a videoconferencing tool. You'll feel like you're face-to-face, and it's a way to personalize the relationship and build a sense of team commitment.
Some additional ideas for strengthening communication can be found in this article, "15 Tips to Manage an Offshore Team." When it comes to virtual communication, it's easy to forget about the good old basic telephone. Pick up the phone as part of your strategy, too -- since it's one communication vehicle used universally and comfortable for everyone. Do whatever it takes to make all members of the team realize that they have skin in the game and are a vital part of the project's success.
Remind: When thinking about this component of communication, several things come to mind. I previously reviewed why communicating messages over and over again is so important. Equally important is reminding everyone involved that while we're striving to work in a virtual environment that feels seamless, we do need to appreciate the differences that our cultures bring. As shared in the article, "10 Tips on How to Lead a Global Virtual Team," make sure both sides of the team -- onshore and offshore -- become at least somewhat familiar with their counterpart's culture. At the same time, educate your team to be cautious about going overboard on the cultural sensitivity -- the goal is to be culturally aware and respectful. Perhaps learn a few basic phrases, like "hello" and "thank you" in your offshore partners' language. One of the attendees at this Webinar asked a great question: "Are there certain hard or soft skills that make people more successful in working with an offshore engagement?" Cultural sensitivity is definitely a must-have soft skill. Be sensitive to holidays that your offshore team might celebrate. Remember time zone differences and don't always schedule meetings when it's after hours for your offshore partner. Rotate the times of meetings so that it's not always inconvenient for the same group. Make sure you use global English and avoid acronyms, buzzwords and analogies that could confuse international team members.
Offshoring brings with it many benefits -- long-term cost savings, access to a diverse pool of talent, flexibility and scalability to name a few. Implementing high communication standards from the onset is a critical way to help your company reap these rewards. When done right, it can seem as if you're working with a team located right next door.