When I had recently reached out to an executive at a product company offering to discuss our QA services, the response I got was something like this: “I am about to yank off of Indian development resources and rework my business model; I’ve had it for anything to do with Indian resources”; It amazes me to hear such generalized statements and more importantly amuses me that even such senior people sometimes fail to understand that he/she equally partakes in the success/failure of a global engagement. So, I decided to gather my thoughts on this very important topic of “Building a Successful Global Engagement Model” which calls for commitment from all entities involved. Now, this topic may not be a completely new one under discussion; you’ll probably find a lot of material on this at various places, but what I discuss here are purely based on my own experiences and learnings (some good, some bad) and more importantly touching upon various angles of geographical presence, such as:
- A product company working with its geographically distanced branch
- A product company working with development and QA services (outsourced) partners
- A services company working with its geographically distanced branch
- One services company working with another services company, to name a few
Bottom line is that the best practices I outline below are ones that are generalized and applicable to a varied set of scenarios in the global delivery model.
As we all go through and gradually come out of the vicious hands of recession, I can see all the lucrative tax benefits of doing work in-house. Given the man –power demand supply situation, I understand you will find excellent talent locally at a much more competitive price than before. Despite all of these attractive factors at play, one cannot completely ignore the positives of a “Global delivery model”; some very important ones being:
- An enhanced productivity cycle (sometimes even 24*5, depending on where your teams are based out of)
- Continued cost benefits
- Expertise of local hires in native countries which is often invaluable if that market happens to be a launch pad for the product under development
Weighing in all these pros and cons, it is important for the management to decide the balance of how much work to retain in-house, how much to get done from global delivery teams, where should such teams be located etc.Let us now take a look at the best practices I have below, which will certainly help the management answer some of these key questions, helping them build a successful delivery model.
1.Strategizing on what work to be done where:
Doing this right is very vital and stands proof to the saying “A job well begun is half done”. Going wrong at this step typically has adverse implications from a cost, quality, timeline and team morale standpoints. Some criteria to be had in mind while determining the location of a work module include:
- Proximity to specialists
- Complexity of the feature under development
- Logical grouping of certain work modules to be handled by the same team
- Sequencing and parallelizing of work modules to leverage and maximize productivity of global teams
- Local expertise of team – e.g. if the product under development is a student-teacher application to be largely deployed in developing countries, plan for a lot of acceptance and usability testing to be done locally in a country like Brazil, India, China
2.Effective Communication and Relationship Building:
By effective communication, I do not mean, extra overhead that makes the communication process more cumbersome; this is often a misconception in a global delivery model. Granted, the communication factor is slightly more time consuming in this model compared to projects that are centralized in the same location. However, when the communication protocols are clearly laid and implemented upfront and everyone buys into it, it soon lends itself to a smooth deliver engine which in fact creates more time for the management to focus on more strategic tasks. The key here is to blend a good balance of project/technical communication with non project/softer aspects of communication. Build your rapport/relationship by giving your global counterparts their deserved significance in planning meetings, project reviews, product demos, war meetings etc. which empowers them to succeed in their jobs as well as makes them feel a part of the larger team. At the same time, do not forget to share a lighter moment with them, which you would, if they were physically co-located with you. Show your care and empathy for global teams even if it is a very small gesture. For e.g. if a weekly status meeting has long been happening in the morning PST, check to see if changing it to evening PST, for a few months, would make it easier, for a team in Asia. Keep your communication channels open and free flowing yet respecting each other’s work-life balance. Use both audio and video communication modes; video especially goes a long way in relationship building as you see the body language of the people talking making each other more comfortable in the conversation at hand.
3.Retaining the team spirit and adopting an embracing style of management:
This point does have a few overlaps with the earlier point on “relationship building through effective communication”; but there’s more to discuss specific to this best practice. One of the leading causes for the failure of a global delivery model is when teams don’t feel a sense of “togetherness” and this gets only further amplified by the lack of their physical proximity. The manager at whose levels the teams culminate, herein has a major responsibility of ensuring team bonding for which an embracing style of management is very important. Some things he/she should do to build and strengthen team spirit include:
- Acknowledging the contributions of global teams at periodic and appropriate intervals – this could be just a verbal acknowledgement or could be say a certificate signed by senior management etc.
- Ensuring morale events take place not just at the project hub but at all global locations
- Promote cross geography team visits starting at his / her level:
oFor e.g. Project review meetings can be conducted from different locations, each time
oEncouraging engineers from varied locations to travel to other locations in such a way that it justifies the project costs involved – e.g. plan for travels during the product training, knowledge transfer, project ramp up phases. Such visits strengthen team bonding
oIf possible get the teams together for team outings – e.g. one team is in WA and another team in CA; in such cases it is easier to plan for a common team outing rather than with a team across the globe
- Decentralize work items effectively with a goal of giving interesting and challenging work to all teams
oThis may not always be possible especially if the global team is an outsourced vendor / service provider, in which case you can adopt some of the other above mentioned softer aspects to build team bonding
4.Understand and accommodate cultural differences:
When global teams involve cross–geographies, this becomes especially important; taking some effort and due diligence to understand and appreciate cultural differences goes a long way in the overall program’s success. A few examples here include:
- Not everyone would have had English as their first language. Give them some time and support to help onboard them into the project’s rhythm.
- Holidays observed and celebrated vastly differ across the globe. E.g. Diwali is celebrated with as much grandeur in India as is Christmas in the US. Accommodate for these in your project plan
- I’ve seen that an individual’s aggressiveness and assertiveness quotients vary a lot based on his/her cultural background. I’ve had teams in India where I’ve had to give pep-talk sessions to help them understand that “it is perfectly ok to say “NO” to a customer’s requirement”. Understand the team’s softer work aspects to provide any training they need to fill gaps that may exist
- Similarly, I’ve also seen teams feeling very offended when the product defects they file are randomly rejected in software triage meetings. This is again a case where some extra communication from the triage committee’s end and some education to the global teams about the time pressure under which triage meetings are held, would help avoid any personality clashes.
In summary, setting up a global delivery model is an art and a science in itself. Though these are valuable guidelines that I’ve defined and there may be others available for you with a simple search online, evaluate your situation at hand, before you decide which practice to implement and to what extent. You are the best judge here to bring in customization to suit your needs. Your experience is a valuable asset to help your engagement model succeed; however the above time-tested best practices will certainly help you go a long way, in the right direction!