The art of… Working with Offshore


You might be interested in this blog if you, as a manager, (start to) work with an offshore delivery-model in full or as part of. Literally hundreds of books have been written on this topic. Although I will not provide you with titles, I advise you to read some of them that relate to do's and don'ts in making such a delivery model successful. My personal take on this topic is "respecting culture improves outcomes". <Press Title to Continue Reading...>...

The reverse is in my view even more true. Ignoring cultural differences dramatically impacts outcomes in a negative way.

I gladly leave theoretical debates to the writers of the many books on this topic. This blog concerns some of my personal and practical experiences in creating successful delivery models, in particular working with India resource.

I think there are at least two main reasons why working with offshore resourcing is interesting for our western world. First of all the financials. The cost per fte in offshore centers is much lower. Although there are measurable differences in productivity / fte, ultimately outcomes are financially much more attractive. Understandably, the outcome will be less favourable if you apply this model to relatively small deliverables or if the delivery model is not right.

The second reason is capacity. The amount of resource that is available in offshore locations is extremely large and by far outnumbers the resource capacity in western countries. Unfortunately, the turnover of resource is immense. There are many competitors that have created resource factories in offshore locations. Switching companies is very easy and attractive because every switch brings (a slight) increase in wage... Of course, this also introduces ineffectiveness and lots of waist to bring new resources up to speed with each delivery approach and field of expertise.

Obviously, these are workable aspects you can easily take into account in your delivery model. Now back to the cultural aspects. There are many subtle differences in culture (impact religion, degree of individual independence and empowerment, etc), but there are in my view two dominant differences, the hierarchy factor and the pleasing factor.

The hierarchy is very strong and this applies top down up to and including the team hierarchy. It is very difficult for resources or middle management to voice against leadership. As it is also very difficult to ask for help or support to next level management. This is often seen as a weakness or 'unfit to the work' by management and for the one requesting the help a 'loss of face'.

The other dominant factor, the so-called pleasing factor is making this even more complex. The desire to say 'yes' is extremely strong. Even if there is no realistic ground to do so, the feared impact of saying no is equal to asking for help.

Both factors are very dangerous to the outcome, if you do not deal with them in your delivery model. As I have overseen many projects that use an offshore delivery model, here are some of my practical suggestions:

  • Let your project managers be clear in what they desire from the assigned team of resources. No room for doubt or 'poldermodel' approach, it is always 'yes' or 'no', enforce regular and planned review moments to re-iterate the message;
  • Implement a structural cadence with next level management (include one management level above in your communication). Ensure that management dashboards have no room for creative offshore input, insist in written reporting cc-ing at least one management level above;
  • Network with upper management, preferably visit the offshore location yourself at least once; Understand their organisation, take an interest in their objectives and challenges. Find possible angles to make your generic delivery model fit their interests so that they ultimately benefit from its success.
  • If you get notified that the assigned resources and their offshore management in a project cannot solve the issues at hand, YOU will have to go to upper management yourself and ask for help. In that case it will not or is less likely to be seen as a loss of face. Since you installed a structural cadence with next level management, it will be easier to prewarn them and that your ask for support from the upper management is more of a natural step forward with top-down commitment.
  • Last but not least, find yourself a sponsor within the offshore organisation that is not necessary linked to any of your deliveries, but is a trusted person for the offshore upper management team. Preferably someone that has worked in onsite locations. Sometimes this is part of the structure, like in our case; a resource allocated to be the liaison between Europe and our offshore locations. There will be moments you need a 'mediator' to finetune 'communication and language' when so many people are involved. If this is not part of the structure and you want to build a delivery factory, then I strongly advise to find one.

Finally, I have witnessed many extremes. For example that one resource in a team was covering for the underperforming of others. This meant he worked 16-18 hours a day to do repairwork without this being known outside this offshore team. Obviously, this is absurd, but it shows how far loss of face goes. Just be aware and respect cultural differences, it will absolutely improve outcomes...

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