In Part 1 of this two part series we started looking at the first two areas of my list of five that a project manager who is working with an offshore development team needs to focus on. We covered identifying a leader for the offshore team and how scope needs to be very carefully managed. Let’s look at the next three…
Establish a communication schedule
When your team is close and communication is easy and straightforward, you can likely rely mostly on the weekly Status Meetings, weekly Status Reports, the Project Schedule and a few emails to ensure that everyone is on the same page. I also like to have a delivery-team-only meeting prior to the customer call just to ensure that everything on the Status Report is accurate and up-to-date. When dealing with development team members on the other side of the world, more frequent communication is going to be necessary. More emails, likely more scheduled team calls and a separate status report from the offshore team to the Project Manager on a weekly basis should be part of the project communication methods. And always follow-up verbal communication with written communication to ensure proper understanding and commitment on both sides. Don’t underestimate the use of text messaging on the project. It may not be standard fare when working with co-located or more locally located resources, but it may be beneficial when working with an offshore team. If one or more parties find it difficult to communicate verbally, consider utilizing text messaging. A lot of people are much more comfortable communicating via text when using a secondary language, as it provides them an opportunity to correct mistakes. From a managerial perspective, it can be beneficial in providing a nice record of the communication.
Test often (as it makes sense)
It will be critical for the delivery team to act almost in the role of customer when development milestones are reached. Use an iterative development process and test regularly. Test after every development milestone before the customer is ever engaged to review the development activity or the functionality of the code. That way, any scope issues or requirements misunderstandings can be identified and possibly corrected before the customer is aware.
Monitor the schedule closely and very often
This is always a critical responsibility of the Project Manager. However, when you’re working with a development team that is worlds away, it becomes even more important. You can never take the phrase “things are going well” and run with it. You must identify status to very specific details. Make sure that the development tasks are broken out into smaller and very trackable tasks. Obtain status updates on those tasks from the offshore team lead on a regular basis and then ask again. You may have to dig deep and re-iterate your understanding of the status and obtain solid confirmation of status from the offshore team lead throughout the project.
I’ve utilized offshore developers on several projects and for the most part it has been a great experience. The education level, dedication, focus and overall work ethic have been very strong. My only problems so far have been with time zones and sudden unavailability of a particular team member. As with any project communication is key. And communication can be a risk or an issue with offshore development teams. Planning ahead and having strategies in place to mitigate communication roadblocks as issues will definitely help your project run more smoothly.