Global development centers have become an integral part of several businesses especially in the IT world, where companies leverage local technical talent, proximity to users, advantages such as cost and time savings etc. in building such teams, despite the challenges the model has to offer. I had written on a similar topic in the past available here talking about how to successfully build global engagement models; while that article is largely relevant in the context of what we discuss here, this post is more about ideas to bring in engineering delivery consistency across global teams.
As we start off, one has to understand that global development centers are typically started years after the company has established itself at its home base, its headquarters. So, one has to understand that inherent challenges around disparity in domain knowledge, work process and methodologies and overall team maturity will exist. Once you acknowledge these as ground realities that need to be worked on, it becomes a more manageable task that we can objectively work towards fixing, rather than working in a defensive modus operandi. Over the rest of this write up, you will see me using global or remote employees/engineers to refer to people who work in the global delivery centers and employees at the central location for those that work in the head quarters.
So, let’s look at the challenges individually and the possible mitigation strategies:
1. Domain Knowledge – unless this is a completely new product line which is started off in the remote delivery location, typically a company’s headquarters does have a large involvement / presence in the product that is being developed. One has to understand that people at the central location are at a domain advantage due to several reasons – existing product knowledge, access to business and marketing teams, proximity to real users (unless the product has a local demand that the global center would have proximity to) etc. Domain knowledge takes time to build. While typically one may consider cross team trips to impart such knowledge, setting aside some time for building domain expertise, along with ongoing deliverables is important. While estimating the team’s productivity numbers, factor for such domain know-how gaps and chalk out a clear plan to fix those gaps within a reasonable period of time. Evaluate ongoing progress and importantly schedule reverse knowledge sessions, where you encourage your global teams to take charge of any demos, presentations etc. to be made. This not only challenges them on the job, but also motivates and gives them the right opportunities towards bridging the domain gap.
2. Technical Depth – if the right hiring practices have been adopted, this should not be a major challenge to handle, because the characteristics of a global delivery model do not hinder technical depth adversely a whole lot. That said, employees in the central location might be at a slight advantage due to technical discussions, trainings, conferences that they may be part of, which their counterparts in global centers may not be involved with. To mitigate these, the leadership has to plan for such trainings (if live is not possible, at least recorded sessions), virtual discussions, relevant conferences in their location to promote technical learning that is consistent across the board. It might be beneficial to invite engineers from global centers to present in international conferences, or even conferences in the central location. This helps promote technical excellence as well as motivates them to rise to the levels of their central counterparts.
3. Disciplinary Practices – These next three points in my opinion go a long way in establishing delivery consistency. What I mean by disciplinary practices is that every discipline – be it design, marketing, development, test etc. have their own implementation practices specific to the discipline and the company. This includes both tactical day to day practices as well as strategic futuristic practices including best practices and tracking IT trends to adopt them in their organization. Typically, the central location of the company tends to be the hub or nucleus that builds stability around disciplinary practices. This can be easily imparted to global teams over time through cross training sessions, peer reviews of deliverables (such as artifacts, code, tests etc.), involving the global teams in the overall disciplinary implementation process including taking their feedback.
4. Process Knowledge – When I talk about process knowledge, I specially talk about the processes adopted in the specific product team. In the previous point on the disciplinary practices, we talked about the disciplinary depth, whereas here it is about the process across the team, running horizontally across disciplines. This includes the development methodology used, the implementation strategies in place, escalation routes, reporting mechanisms, responsibilities of various team members etc. A common understanding of the processes goes a long way in establishing delivery consistency across the board. To enable this have periodic check points to see what is going well, what can be improved on etc. not just at a product and team level but also at a center specific level to catch up on any deltas that may exist
5. Communication Skills – Communication is often the key in making or breaking the delivery model. Even if careful planning and execution is in place on the above areas, if the right levels of communication and overall transparency have not been established, the model will soon become more of a theory than a practice and will not be able to sustain long. This is where the right leadership is very important. The leadership should promote transparency and establish a management and communication style that empowers the teams to collaborate bringing out their bests. Thanks to evolving technology, that communication challenges that existed even say a few years back are a thing of the past. Video, audio conferences, virtual meetings, webinars have all become possible at a very low or even no cost basis. Leverage communication in its varied forms and levels to understand what inconsistencies may exist and work towards addressing them in a planned manner. You will soon realize that it is no longer an overhead, rather an ammunition in building a global delivery model that is consistent across the board.
It is no denial that inconsistencies in delivery will exist when a global delivery center is spun off. The points mentioned above are important areas to acknowledge and address in bridging the inconsistency over time. I am sure there are several more areas to work on specific to every company and team, but the above list should definitely set a team up in the right path to promoting a smooth and consistent global delivery model.