Many software firms today utilize offshore teams of developers to provide a more cost-effective option to U.S. based clients seeking a solution to programming challenges. Managing offshore teams comes with its own set of challenges, but can also be very rewarding in ways that can enrich your life as a project manager. Here experienced Porject Manager, Barney Edwards, details the best practices in managing global teams.
Be Aware of Time Zones
Having your team work on a schedule that is a 10 to 13 hour different than yours means that your coordination skills need to be impeccable. When you consider that clients may be in yet another time zone from you and your team, and it’s enough to cause headaches.
If communication is not handled well, you can get days behind. One email exchange, with the time difference, can require an overnight wait. It’s easy to see how this can quickly cause a timeline to slip if managed improperly.
There are some advantages however. Having a team on the opposite side of the world means that if executed well, programming can continue almost 24/7. That’s right, you can offload all your programming worries knowing that development is going on while you rest your tired, overworked eyes at night.
This also means that pushes to production and deployments that need to happen during the weekend or at night can be done by offshore during their normal working hours.
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Keep Different Cultures in Mind When Communicating
From the outside, it may be hard to imagine culture as a blocker on a technical software development project, but it can impact many aspects of a project. While fun and enlightening, working with others from other parts of the world is not always the easiest thing to adapt to. This culture barrier can go both ways; For instance, I often ask my teams if I can have a deliverable at a certain date, and it’s in my nature to push them for a date which may be sooner than possible. This attitude in America is pretty standard, but not offshore.
A question as simple as “Can I have this completed by tomorrow?” may cause problems when a junior level developer says, after a pause, “Yes.” While to me that means, “Yes, I will deliver it tomorrow”, to the developer it sometimes means, “ Yes, I understand you want it tomorrow.” Whether a good or bad trait, offshore teams can sometimes have difficulty telling their U.S.-based manager “No.”
Often overlooked is the simplicity of the way dates are displayed DD/MM/YYYY, as opposed to MM/DD/YYYY, or sentence capitalization, can cause a project to have delays. I find it is imperative that instructions and requirements are as specific as possible to avoid these types of problems.
On a positive note, having multiple sets of eyes and minds from different backgrounds looking at a problem can be very helpful. Also, it never hurts to learn about others from different backgrounds.
Since offshore teams are usually very helpful and agreeable, U.S.-based managers can easily fall into the habit of thinking that our offshore developer voices on the other side of the call are our robot friends who just do what they are told. It’s important to remember that these are people, with lives and families, worries and hobbies all their own.
I encourage anyone who gets the opportunity to manage offshore teams to connect with the people on the other side. Chat with them about their lives, connect on social media, and broaden your shared cultural experiences. Treat them as coworkers in your own office, and they will want to help you achieve your common goals, instead of just doing things because they are told.
Dialect and Accent Differences Amongst Team Members Globally
I’ll confess, it took me a few months to be able to understand every word of my offshore counterparts’ English. In addition, words or phrases may have different meanings in different cultures. For instance, my Indian team lead often uses the phrase “Do the needful,” but other teams do not. While I understand “Do the needful,” means “Hey, can you please take care of this?” our Russian client at the time was seriously offended. Being able to handle these types of sticky situations that are unintended should be a tool in the PM’s toolbox.
I’m constantly playing translator for my teams to our American clients, and that’s fine by me. Sometimes I’ll use my experience to re-word something a developer said which may have been too technical for a client to understand, even if spoken in perfect American English.
These situations help me to focus on a call because I need to be able to explain something the client is having difficulty understanding.
Looking to create your own personalized project? Ask V-Soft how we can utilize our hybrid model of U.S.-based project management and offshore teams to deploy a successful solution.
About the Author
Barney Edwards is a Project Manager/Business Analyst at V-Soft Consulting's main headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky. He is responsible for being the liaison between developers and V-Soft's clients, as well as keeping projects on track. When he is not at work, Barney enjoys playing guitar and reading sci-fi and fantasy books.