So, you’ve just signed a contract with a an offshore development team. You’ve tapped into the secret weapon of the modern tech industry. Top-tier talent at bargain prices.
Time to kick back and wait for your new app to show up on your doorstep, right?
Sadly, no. Hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise, but you still need to work with your team and guide the development process to success.
Learning how to manage offshore developers carries some unique challenges and differences from a local office, but it’s just as important.
Just like local employees, remote workers are usually only as effective as your leadership.
In this article, we’ll go through some tips and best practices for managing offshore resources, to make sure your investment pays off.
- How to communicate with a team in another country, and keep them as engaged and in the loop as your local employees.
- Why you should take a trip to the remote office once a year, and what you should do while you’re there.
- The real secret to project management for offshore teams, smoothing out speed bumps before they impact workflow.
How to Communicate with Offshore Teams
Good communication starts during the partner selection process, before you’ve even signed a contract. We’ve written previously on how to choose an offshore development team, and a big part of it is ensuring a common language and time zone.
The manager’s duty doesn’t end there, though.
You still need to make sure your office and the remote team are communicating well, and that goes for the entire development process.
Here are a few things you can do to make that happen.
Software for Remote Collaboration
Offshoring and outsourcing become more common every year, and there are dozens of software solutions to make it easy and effective to keep remote workers in the loop.
Since a large percentage of your workforce might be located in a different country, it’s vital to find a way to make meetings and conferences work despite vast geographical differences.
Look for a software package with a full range of collaboration features. File sharing, secure live and asynchronous messaging, collaborative editing, and voice and video chat are all essential to keeping a remote team well-integrated.
The best part? Most of these software suites won’t cost you much at all!
The field of project management has taken off in the past few years, and today there are several models, or methodologies, that can be used to structure teams for maximum productivity.
By far, the most popular is Agile, with an adoption rate growing year over year for over a decade. An industry survey conducted in 2018 found that over 97% of responding organizations use Agile in some form, with 25% relying on it exclusively.
So how does Agile work?
Basically, it’s about iteration. Instead of scoping out a project and then hunkering down until it’s complete, an Agile team will continuously deliver small chunks over set time intervals, called sprints.
At Ignite, we’ve found that three-week sprints work well, and that’s our standard operating procedure.
The result is that managers can keep a tight focus on how a project is evolving, and catch problems early, before they cause lasting damage.
This is perfect for managing offshore developers, since it requires tight communication throughout the entire process.
In other words, there won’t be an opportunity for your office to fall out of touch with the remote team, and that means the communication issues won’t develop in the first place.
There’s a hierarchy to Internet communications.
At the bottom is text. That can take the form of text messages, online chat, or emails. Misunderstandings are common, and that holds true for offshore teams as well. It’s best used for quick updates, nothing more.
Audio is better for engagement, but it’s still not ideal. Phone calls are never going away, but it’s been found that 70% of communication is nonverbal.
That’s why for crucial meetings and status calls, of which you should have plenty with your offshore team, video is king.
There’s no replacing face-to-face communication, and when your workers are spread across the globe, video calls are the closest you can get.
Skype is still the most popular software for video conferencing, though it has plenty of competition these days.
Even with modern video conferencing, it’s still a good idea to meet with your remote workers in person regularly. Let’s get into that now.
Visiting Offshore Team
A good offshore development team represents an ongoing relationship.
Although it’s technically possible to outsource a single project and then be done, this is a mistake.
The real value in an offshore development team is in making them an integral part of your company, so they can learn the ins and outs of the business and gain a true understanding of your strategic goals.
To foster this, it’s important to make an appearance at the remote office, in person, about once a year.
Here’s what you should do while you’re there.
The reverse also works; you might want to invite some portion of the remote team to come work at your local office for a few days.
Think of these visits primarily as a teambuilding exercise.
Although it’s a good opportunity to work through operational challenges as well, you’ll find that the real value here is in getting to know the remote workers, letting them get to know you, and making them feel like a valued part of your business.
You’ll be rewarded with vastly increased engagement, and workers who actually understand and care about what they’re doing for you.
Use this time to get to know the remote workers, listen to the challenges they face, and brainstorm ways to integrate them more tightly into your operations.
Remember that this visit is likely the only time the entire remote team will have access to you.
A well-organized outsourcing operation will utilize a project manager as the single point of contact, except for when you’re physically present.
Consider taking a tour of the office, hosting the workers for a meal, or even an overnight stay. In this more informal setting, take the time to listen to the challenges they face, their ideas for solving them, and brainstorm ways to more tightly integrate the remote team into your operations.
In addition to fostering engagement, you might be surprised at the solutions and new ideas that can develop during this process.
Invite Them Back
All of this applies in reverse, too.
That is, you should consider inviting some of your offshore workers to come visit your local office. This is a great opportunity for your employees to get to know the remote team in an informal setting.
You’re likely to find that the two sets of workers collaborate much more effectively after spending some time in the same room.
Of course, the real point of all this is to ensure a successful development cycle.
So, let’s get into some tips directly related to project management itself.
Project Management Tips for Offshore Teams
Managing a development project with remote workers involves many of the same principles as a local team.
As you’ve learned, the best firms use the Agile methodology, and you’ll find that the basics of day-to-day operations are much the same as a local office.
However, there are some key differences, mostly relating to the different mode of communication you’ll take with a remote team.
Despite all the collaboration and video conferencing software available today, communication will never be quite as easy with a geographically disparate team as it is in a local office.
Here are a few ways to overcome that truth.
Spec the Project from Start to Finish
Most of what you do in managing remote workers is geared towards enhancing communication. The more efficiently your local and offshore teams can exchange ideas, the better off you’ll be.
It’s important to minimize the “black box” effect as much as possible. You need to be involved in project from start to finish, without feeling like you’ve simply turned on an app-creating machine and stepped back.
However, the fact is that for large chunks of a project, the more distant workers will be operating just like that. A good development house will engage in as much planning as necessary.
But at some point, they have to get to work, executing the plan you’ve constructed. They’re in another country, in another time zone, and it’s just not possible to watch them every step of the way.
For that reason, it’s vital for both parties to be clear on every step of the task. If you have any opinion at all on how a piece of the project should be built, build that into the spec.
Don’t leave things vague, expecting the remote team to check in with you for clarification. Sometimes, that’s just not feasible for them, and they’ll need to take an educated guess.
To eliminate that possibility, be as thorough as you possibly can. Spec out every aspect of the project, even more so than you would with a developer working at your location.
Set SMART Goals
Basically, SMART is a method for creating concrete, measurable goals for yourself or your workers.
SMART goals leave no room for confusion or misunderstanding. They have a clear goal, a time limit, and there can be no doubt about whether or not they’ve been achieved.
This is a valuable technique for offshore developers. By leaving no wiggle room when defining success, you allow remote workers to make progress without wondering if they’re going in the right direction.
We detailed SMART goals in our in-depth guide to Best Practices for Offshore Development, which you should absolutely read if you haven’t already.
Practice Data Security
Finally, before committing to a remote office, you should make sure your data security is up to snuff.
A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that data breaches are a growing concern with overseas companies. In particular, an astounding 85% of surveyed Indian outsourcing companies reported at least one data breach in 2015.
This entails locking down vulnerabilities both within and outside the offshore office.
Contracts and legal agreements need to be airtight. Physical and network security need to be emphasized as well, and this can be challenging when dealing with a remote office.
Be sure to check out our Guide to Offshore Software Development Security so you can keep your project safe.
Learning how to manage an offshore development team is challenging, but ultimately rewarding.
There’s a shift in perspective compared to working with local developers, but it’s critical to long-term success.
Do you research and take the time not just to lay a strong foundation, but to manage the team well over time.
- Set the stage for success with effective communication and goal-setting.
- Keep the remote team engaged and invested by valuing them like your own employees.
- Be detailed and thorough when speccing projects and setting objectives.
Do all this, and you’ll see vastly improved productivity and innovation, and a significant cost savings.
It’s well worth it.