Aunty Entity: Outsourcing Tips For Project Managers
Dear Aunty Entity,
I recently inherited a multi stakeholder project where one of the key production team is in another country. Do you have any tips for working with offsite teams and in different timezones?
Ooooh. The catch-all term; ‘outsource’. Back in the days when every blue chip happily farmed out the more technical aspects of a job and customer service centers to a country where the workers are awake at odd hours, seemed more qualified than their boss and cost less per day than co-workers spent on lunchtime burgers and beer it was a dream come true. Then, after a honeymoon period some disgruntled rumblings appeared and grew to a very loud crescendo of anti-outsource sentiment…. “More errors were being introduced which cost more time and money to fix than phase 1″ and: “I want to talk about gardening and football, not which type of buffalo skin is best with chilli jam ….”, it all went a bit quiet… I think you have the picture.
Outsourcing can benefit your project. You can save money, have an entire team dedicated to a project which frees up your own team and of course there’s the lure of international travel. But as with everything, you have to make allowances.
For instance you might want to take the following into consideration:
Project management: Some of us have found that outsourced projects generally require a significantly larger proportion of project management from the project base. This should be taken into consideration. Your .NET programmer may cost the equivalent of a copy of Wired, you get unlimited bandwidth for a low set fee in Siberia but add a couple of return flights to some unpronounceable destination that can’t be abbreviated, bang on the hotel charges, typhoid injections and lost days in travel due to polar bears/sheep/a festival/angry locals on the runway, unplanned stays in the local clink/slum/whorehouse/pub and that massive saving soon dwindles.
Working culture: Sometimes overlooked but worth remembering: In some cases development teams have been trained to follow instructions to the letter. If you are used to providing little in the way of a brief, documentation or direction you could end up with a 50 page, expandable, multi-question and high-scoring and reporting application when all you wanted was a one page form sent to a nominated email address.
Time-zones: It can be frustrating to have to wait for hours before you know anyone will be online. If you’re the type of person who says “time is money, Jones” a lot then inter-time-zone working may not be for you. However, this can also benefit your project: requests can be completed while you are unavailable, ready for you to view when you get into work the next morning – adding a new dimension to the term: working round the clock’.
Local customs: it pays to be a little aware of the cultural leanings of the country your are working with. Mentioning a rugby loss is not a good idea in most of NZ, it’s worth noting that Spain, France and Italy observe 3 hr lunches – bad news on deadline day, it’s probably not wise to joke about the government in Russia and resources may be a little thin on the ground in some parts of the world when Ramadan is on.
Keeping in touch: MSN or Skype are effective and universal communication tools though you might want to open a different account to your personal one especially if your username is comeandgetme69 or somesuch.
Schedule regular conference calls: the opportunity to listen to a human voice can often work through problems instantly rather than trawling through 3 days worth of barely intelligible email that may or may not have arrived due to the power cuts in Nanjin or Invercargill.