Apr 28, 2015
Earlier in my career, I led an outsourced project to design high-capacity circuits (T1 & above). The telecom service provider had five circuit design centers. Each design center had around 50 highly skilled circuit high designers and required knowledge on complex mainframe systems, yet they were struggling to meet the volume of hi-cap orders and had only a 15% flow through.
The onshore hourly pay was expensive, so the client decided to outsource the circuit design function to offshore, who worked at a significantly lower rate, to reduce operational costs. With offshore working on our manual workload, onshore was able to develop in-house software for automating the circuit design process – resulting in a 95% flow through rate.
This is a prime example of how offshore can serve as the missing link for successful project management; however, a combined offshore and onshore team must take into account their differences. I often use an analogy to explain the onshore/offshore model: onshore is the mission control center and offshore is the space shuttle. Both work within the same team with the same goals, but operate in contrasting work environments. Under optimal conditions and understanding, an offshore workforce can add the reinforcements needed to drastically improve the quality, cost efficiency and speed of project completion.
The Challenges with Offshore
While adopting an offshore workforce can help tremendously with saving both time and money, there are five major challenges a project manager must overcome to ensure the "space shuttle" and their "control center" are working in tandem:
In my experience, understanding cultural norms of both the onshore and offshore employees is necessary in preventing project delays. One of the major challenges with intercultural collaboration is miscommunication.
In my experience, understanding cultural norms of both the onshore and offshore employees is necessary in preventing project delays. One of the major challenges with intercultural collaboration is miscommunication. For example, I've found many offshore teams hesitant to say "No" to customer requests – even if they cannot always deliver. While it is common in western cultures to ask questions or disagree with superiors, it is not the norm in eastern cultures. Too many "Yes" answers can lead to over-committing and impede innovation, thus slowing down the total project development or lowering the quality of deliverables.
In addition, international collaboration is difficult due to time zone differences and cultural work schedules. While Americans traditionally work Monday through Friday during the day, offshore offices in India typically work Monday through Saturday and are 9.5 – 12.5 hours ahead of the U.S. If there is an issue that needs resolution or clarification from either side, it can be difficult to fix the problem in real-time.
Customer Communication and Relationship Building
The difficulties in cross-cultural communication between on and offshore also carry over when communicating with customers. As with onshore/offshore communication, many of the problems stem from cultural differences. Customer trust is compromised due to poor training in language and behavioral normalcies for offshore teams.
For example, many offshore workers are required to take language classes, which teach offshore employees how to neutralize their accents and how to respond when talking to American customers. A major issue with these video-based classes is that they may teach an employee the appropriate response, but not the proper emotion or personality to match the response, thus causing the response to sound borderline robotic and not genuine.
Virtualization and Process Implementation
Communication between offshore and onshore is already difficult, and working with different technology and frameworks further exacerbates the problem.
In addition, transferring an offshore team on the other side of the world to a new or virtualized platform or process can be extremely difficult. For example, many traditional Indian IT service providers have built their businesses on a Waterfall methodology foundation, and found it difficult to adapt to efficient and timely Agile development methods.
It is difficult to maintain the qualified workforce due to the low retention rates associated with offshore teams. As outsourcing becomes more widely adapted by key industry players, leading employees of an account at offshore sites are in high demand.
Skillset and Leadership
Unfortunately, offshore project management does not always coincide with onshore expectations. Project completion can slow or falter due to the multiple handoffs that occur within the offshore environment.
Another major issue with using only offshore management is in the checks and balances processes. Primarily, offshore relies on internal data and does not conduct outside testing. Therefore, all data collected is internal, leaving room for possible error.
In addition, it is difficult to maintain a qualified workforce due to the low retention rates associated with offshore teams. As outsourcing becomes more widely adapted by key industry players, leading employees of an account at offshore sites are in high demand – resulting in common turnover levels of 15% to 20%.As new employees join, production decreases; more time is spent on getting them up to speed via knowledge transfer and training.
Improving cultural understanding, technology and communication practices are crucial to ensuring a mutual trust between offshore and onshore sites, and one of the best ways to achieve this is through physical interaction.
All of the discussed challenges have created a lack of trust in the offshore workforce from the onshore perspective. However, a commonly expressed sentiment I've heard from the offshore side is that "onshore doesn't do anything." According to the Harvard Business Review, this mindset stems from not being able to see each other's contributions.
Improving cultural understanding, technology and communication practices are crucial to ensuring a mutual trust between offshore and onshore, and one of the best ways to achieve this is through physical interaction.
Solution: Onshore and Offshore Integration
To make sure both sites are on the same page, new offshore personnel should visit and train face-to-face at the onshore location. In my experience, successful offshore teams were brought to the onshore site and trained for about 1-2 months before going into the offshore site. This way, offshore had the opportunity to see first-hand what onshore does, understand what the expectations are, and develop a connection to the onshore project management team.
During this training phase, onshore project management should ensure:
For the offshore team to keep the project running on schedule, they need to see and understand the pressure from the on-shore perspective. Onshore must also to be able to trust offshore to deliver what they need to complete each project in a timely and cost-efficient matter. When managing an offshore team, proper communication, technology, and cultural understanding are needed to ensure overall success and flow-through.
For more information on how Excelacom can help prepare your business for managing an offshore team, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Philip is Senior Solutions Architect for OSS/BSS Product and Consulting with over 17 years of experience in the Communications and IT industry. Since joining Excelacom in 2010, Mr. Philip has maintained a successful track record for leading product and service design innovations, as well as business and technology transformation initiatives. Projects include transforming business architecture, process modeling, requirement analyses, and end-to-end solution design including OSS/BSS transformation and delivery roles.More about Patrick
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