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How to Work Successfully with Offshore Delivery Teams

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by Ian Watt

Establishing effective communication and working relationships with offshore delivery teams is a challenge. They are literally out of sight, often out of mind and usually distant by 10 or 12 hours. But since building effective communication and relationships with these teams is critical to the success of the majority of sourcing engagements—and a great deal of money has changed hands to put them in place—it’s worth investing the time and resources to make them work.

Here are the Top 5 ways to get started:

1. Know the people. “Offshore” is not some amorphous blob, it’s a group of people. If a directory doesn’t already exist, create one. Be sure to include names, roles, contact information, work hours, team memberships and photographs. The directory should include everyone: onshore, offshore, client and service provider. Don’t forget to list executives, and list all members in alphabetical order.

2. Engage the people. Send client employees to work with offshore teams for two or three weeks on a quarterly basis. Ask them to be the go-to team for requirement translation while they’re there. Have them work the back end of the processes with the offshore team to learn the ins and outs of the most common issues—things like poor writing, time-zone differences, and unclear or contradictory information that makes follow-through difficult. Also be sure to bring offshore folks onshore for the same amount of time. Ask them to work at the front end with the people who are gathering and writing requirements and invite them to share their perspective about what would be helpful to the offshore teams. They will learn that onshore issues include things like lack of meaningful business involvement, time pressure and slow approvals.

3. Appreciate the people. Find good examples of work, and lavish praise on them. Recognize people by name, treating offshore and onshore teams equally. Find poor examples of work from both teams, and use those as “lessons learned.” Share the lessons and make sure they lead to improvement. Don’t use them to beat people up—at least not the first time the mistake is made.

4. Grow the people. Encourage employees on the offshore team to move up the value chain—or left along the software development lifecycle—and work more closely with those who document requirements from business units, for example, or move from testing to coding or design to strategy. Help the whole team—onshore and offshore, client and partner—to improve the entire process by making requirements more accurate, concise, rapid and clear.

5. Support the people. Building cohesive and productive teams able to work across spans of time, distance and culture takes time and much of it will not happen perfectly. The enterprise sourcing executive must manage the entire team, fixing and improving as he or she goes. What this person must not do is succumb to the temptation of saying, “It was the offshore team that messed up” every time something goes wrong. It’s an easy answer—and it will keep the business at bay and buy some time—but it ultimately will destroy the relationship, the productivity of the teams and the potential for future growth.

ISG works with enterprises to create effective offshore delivery teams. Contact me to discuss further.

About the author

Ian works with companies around the world to optimize their strategy, strengthen their transactions and improve their transitions. He is comfortable and effective in unstable environments, bringing more than thirty years of direct experience to bear. He is a calm, experienced presence while managing and meeting client and team expectations, working effectively and efficiently even when desired outcomes are undefined or unstated. He currently specializes in high-risk transition activity and ADM transactions. He has wide-ranging experience with companies across many industries, including pharmaceutical, telecom, food service, media, energy, insurance, pension, and consulting. He has done significant work in the US, Europe and Asia.