While hiring an offshore development team isn’t necessarily new practice in 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a hike in IT-outsourcing spending, as well as remote work, across the globe.
This year, the forecasted spending on IT services is expected to reach $1.2 trillion worldwide — an 11.2% growth over 2020. This is in conjunction with the IT-outsourcing market revenue for 2022, which is expected to come in at approximately $413.7 billion. These expenditures, combined with the fact that 16% of all companies — globally — are now fully remote (that’s a 44% increase over the last five years), means that chances are you will have some interaction with offshore developers if you haven’t already.
And while hiring offshore certainly comes with advantages (often including cost savings and a quicker project timeline), it also comes with its own unique set of challenges, many falling within two main categories: communication roadblocks and culture differences. And these differences and roadblocks can exacerbate hurdles that in-house teams can face.
Many software development teams already strive to adhere to Agile Software Development concepts, which can aid in maneuvering the landscape of offshore collaboration. With that in mind, here are five tips to help combat the few but important challenges of working with offshore developers.
1Define a Clear Scope of Work
Poor communication can fester in the simplest of workplace situations, let alone those compounded by asynchronous working, time zone differences, and language barriers. Being as clear as possible about what work needs to be done is paramount to actually getting the work done. Does the development team fully understand the project? If it’s long-term work, has the team been properly onboarded? Create a roadmap of the project with goalposts and benchmarks with as many details as possible and, most importantly, put all of it in writing. Was a decision made during your stand-up this morning? Follow that meeting up with an email to all involved so that there’s little to no confusion moving forward. Included in that roadmap should be short-term deliverables — maybe this looks like working in two-week-long springs with a demo at the end to track progress.
2Check In Regularly
Speaking of check-ins — meeting in frequent intervals is key to any remote working situation, and even more crucial for those involving software development. They can be brief: 15-minute “stand-up” meetings at the beginning of the workday or workweek, as well as regular calls for specific project groups or tasks, can help keep everyone on the same page and moving at a steady pace. Brief meetings, in addition to as-needed demos, can help make the environment feel collaborative, even if team members are miles apart from one another. A workshop at the beginning of the project and the next few follow-ups set the tone for this cadence, which can help when teams are working in multiple time zones.
Clear communication and regular check-ins set the stage for a collaborative environment, but there are some factors that need to be tweaked from what would be the norm in a physical office space. For instance, we referenced a stand-up at the beginning of the workday, but when is the beginning of the workday? How much of a time difference is there between you as the manager and your development team? Be sure to set up a channel for communication that makes it both asynchronous and high-engagement. This is where various project management and messaging tools come into play. Applications such as Slack or Zoom can help for quick chats or longer meetings, Jira or Trello can offer organization for multi-step projects and tasks, and writing everything down in a shared Google doc can tie everything together from all internal stakeholders. Whichever programs are used, clear implementation is paramount, and all parties must agree on the “Definition of Done.”
4Bring the Outside In
Clear communication and collaboration should not just involve the development team, but it should also include the end user or merchant of the software that’s being created. Interviews resulting in case studies, focus groups, user surveys — all are designed to either reinforce or reimagine the end game for what is being developed. This helps cement the aforementioned scope of work and project roadmap by showing how management arrived at its decisions and looking at the boss that everyone answers to — the consumer.
In addition to transparency during onboarding and familiarizing with the project, there should also be clear guidelines around the working process itself, taking into account cultural differences in work ethic and communication. Which members of the team need to work with visuals? Which members work better with a list? Who is task-oriented versus who is team-oriented? What types of explanations are necessary when changes need to be implemented? While some of these questions might seem to simply build off of an idea of good communication, the answers can vary wildly based on culture. Having that understanding in a workplace is a necessary ingredient to building trust and a better work environment, which should ultimately lead to saving time and money while achieving project success.