Delivering Projects Offshore

What are BIG’s tips for delivering projects offshore?

We are concerned here with the delivery of a product or service offshore, as opposed to the management of offshore resources as part of your project team.

As soon as you are assigned offshore work, start conducting research into the culture of the region. This will ensure you have an idea of what to expect and, of equal importance, know what the offshore expectation will be of you and of your role, when you meet your new project team. Talk to other colleagues who have already worked in your assigned country but take care not to be unduly influenced by any individual prejudices.

Make sure there is money allocated in your project budget to enable staff to travel offshore and onshore. People like to know who they are dealing with so, from the outset make the effort to personally visit your project contacts in their own country. This will ensure you can start building two-way team bonds as early as possible and avoid a feeling of ‘them and us’ creeping into the team. As the project develops, reciprocate by inviting a small group to come onshore to meet other members of the home team; try to involve a mix of management and clerical staff so that bridges can be created across all levels of your team organization.

Ensure a mutually agreed framework is put in place to facilitate good communication between all members of the team. This is likely to include regular teleconference meetings. You may wish to use translation services (for written and verbal communication) if the offshore team struggle with English language or vice versa.

Finally, listen to what your offshore colleagues have to say and involve them as much as possible in relevant decision-making processes. This is particularly important if the project involves changes being implemented to an offshore environment (as opposed to a project using offshore resources to perform work delivered onshore). In such instances, be seen to compromise where possible and to ‘give’ as well as ‘take’. Any concessions you give are likely to be repaid ten-fold if it means the offshore team come to respect you and work willing alongside you toward the project goals.

Managing Offshore IT Project Resources

What should we understand about managing offshore project resources?

Today many organisations have decided to move their IT development offshore to reduce costs and increase competitiveness. Work is sent to places such as India, China and Russia. The cost savings in these countries is considerable but the headline saving is only a small part of the equation. Running projects offshore is very different to running them at home. Understanding the issues encountered by other project managers who have been involved in offshore projects will help you to be better prepared. These are six of the key areas to consider and where most of the issues lie when outsourcing offshore.

1. Understanding the Culture

This is possibly the most complex area and takes time to understand. Western norms of doing business cannot be applied in places such as India and China. Without a good understanding of the culture it is easy for things to go wrong. This is where it can be useful to go on a cultural training course. A good course will tell you what to expect, how to react and plan strategies to deal with different ways of working.

2. Selecting the Right Projects to go Offshore

Some companies are taking a blanket approach to their offshore adventure, expecting to dispense with their internal IT development entirely. The problem is that not all projects lend themselves to offshore development. Good candidates for going offshore are typically those projects that are either very well defined with very little change expected or repetitive work. Projects that require a large amount of customer interaction or are likely to have a lot of changes during development are not suitable.

3. Defining the Scope

Offshore projects need to be defined in more detail than those run at home are. You will get exactly what you ask for including all mistakes and errors, whether obvious or not. Make sure everything is written down and never make assumptions about what is obvious or implied. A spin off benefit many companies have experienced in this area is an improvement in the quality of their functional and technical specifications.

4. Getting What You Pay For

It is important to check whether the people and services you pay for are what you get. There is a tendency to provide cheaper solutions. Agree what you are buying and check on a regular basis that is what you are getting. Ask for peoples CV’s to ensure that they have the relevant experience and qualifications. Make regular visits to check that the working environment and equipment is as expected.

5. Effective Communication

This is probably the single most important aspect of offshore working. A lot of effort should be put into setting up a good communications structure. It cannot be assumed that the correct information is passed to the right people and it is important to make sure that it is, to avoid problems later. One solution is to have a company manager offshore, at least initially, to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

6. Monitoring Progress

The terms “offshore development” and “black box” should not be heard in the same sentence. This is a concept that will not work. Offshore projects need managing or at least monitoring. It is important to have short milestones and frequent deliverables in any offshore project so it is easier to monitor progress and quality and take timely corrective action. The onus is on the customer to monitor progress; the offshore company will seldom mention problems or delays in an effort to save face.

What are the common pitfalls with offshore projects?

  • Not a quick fix budget cut – it takes from three months to a year to completely hand the work over to an offshore partner and during this period costs will rise. Therefore do not assume savings will materialize during this period.
  • Employing arms and legs rather than brains – it is common place to find that you will be assigned a qualified and experienced developer and several inexperienced trainees or students. The developer is expected to coach and guide the inexperienced staff to deliver packages of work. These people are usually unable to make sound technical decisions and in some of the worst examples have only a rudimentary knowledge of the technology they are working with. This can lead to poor quality and extended lead times.
  • Lack of accountability – it is important to have a single point of contact that can make decisions and get you want you need. All too often the person in this role has no power and is only there as a token to keep the customer happy.
  • Onshore experience – do not rely on telephone and e-mail communication only. It is necessary for key staff from the offshore partner to work onshore in order for them to understand the company culture and what is expected of them. This can typically last between three and six months.

Anecdotal evidence from companies with two or more years experience in offshore outsourcing is that, given time, it can work and savings can be made but be prepared for the years of effort and a large up-front investment.