Running an effective offshore software development team can be tough. Software development projects are challenging to execute on time and on budget, and differences in culture and time zone can add to this challenge.
Of course, offshoring your software development team offers significant benefits, including lower costs and longer project runways. However, the challenges of offshoring can be overcome with foresight and discipline. Good managers should be able to successfully run a development team in onshore or offshore conditions, and importantly, the principles they use can be learnt by others.
This article focuses on the establishment of an effective software development team for your own company, in a country other than home. We’re not talking about outsourcing in this article. There are strong reasons why the use of outsourcers may not be the right path for a startup or scaleup. As many noted entrepreneurs and investors have remarked, internal capabilities are key to the prospects of a startup or scaleup. Using outsourcers is likely to cost you more and destroy value for your company.
We’ve broken the recommendations to successfully implement your own offshore team into five stages:
1. Preparation to Offshore
Preparation is critical before attempting to start an offshore development team. Your company’s technical needs should be clearly explained. Clear role descriptions and existing systems for the management of your project will also help considerably, but are not essential.
It’s vitally important that you are prepared to go to the location of your offshore team. Your company will benefit enormously from spending time with the new team, setting the foundation for future trust, communication and cultural understanding.
It goes without saying that you will need to allocate enough time to make this move successfully. If you are already stretched thin, the launch of an offshore development team may not be the right option.
2. Launching Your Offshore Software Development Team
Building your brand prior to seeking staff is a step that many companies seeking an offshore development team will neglect. Your company needs to be seen as a desirable place to work, evidenced by tangible long-term prospects and a sense of excitement. Spending time in the local scene, and especially with local partners and media, can make it significant easier to attract and retain talent for the company.
When it comes to selecting staff, it’s rare that the requested salary is the best way to tell the difference between candidates. Don’t rely on code samples or reference checks as these can be faked. Use referrals, and use sample assignments to find a good team. Test their ability before you hire them full time, or make sure you carefully assess their ability before the expiry of the probation period.
Investing the right amount of time in selecting your team can avoid the headache of a wayward project months later.
3. Managing Your New Team
Perhaps it doesn’t need to be said, but it’s imperative that you manage your staff appropriately. There will be repercussions at some stage if you treat your offshore staff as second-class citizens.
Your offshore team will need leadership, planning and oversight. How much of these attributes are required at a local level will depend on your head office’s capabilities: is your head office good at managing projects and local staff? Can your head office prepare detailed specifications? Will they train staff? Can they be in attendance regularly?
The answers to these questions will shape the profile that you seek to manage your team at a local level. Talent will be a prerequisite. However, at all times you will need to keep a watchful eye for ambiguous roles or lack of direction in your new team. These can be major barriers to success.
4. Delivering the Work
Breaking the project into manageable components should improve the project’s likelihood of successful delivery. Smaller projects ensure that finer points can be communicated and lessen the risk of a new team becoming overwhelmed. Your company’s leadership team should make these structural decisions, until you have the trust and confidence in your offshore team.
You need to keep a close eye on the team. Pay attention to the work flow and answer questions quickly. Get demos regularly, probably every week or two, even if they are only partially working. Test every release closely.
This will take time, but the savings delivered from offshoring should outweigh the time invested in overseeing the project.
Project documentation is also very important. By avoiding the duplication of work later in the process, the savings in a well-documented project can be considerable.
5. Building and Motivating Your Team
An offshore team needs to feel that they are an important part of the company. Communication should be clear, open and respectful. Head office should spend considerable time with the offshore team, either online or in-person. Offshore teams can also benefit immensely from activities with colleagues from head office: if your company’s team is in Vietnam, someone from head office is probably going to need to sing karaoke or eat hotpot. And do this at least once per year!
Give praise to the team regularly and pay bonuses as per local custom. Motivate your team and align their interest by being prepared to offer stock options. However, the understanding of stock options can vary between countries and industries, so seek local guidance specific to your company before proceeding.
Finally, it’s important to fly your developers to your head office if possible and the chance arises. Meeting face-to-face is key to help colleagues understand each other and communicate effectively.
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