Project management and outsourcing experts share their advice on how to effectively manage far-flung or internationally outsourced projects.
“As if managing complex technology projects wasn’t difficult enough, outsourcing can create numerous stresses you likely have not experienced when using a primarily or exclusively internal team,” says Tom Fountain, CTO of Pneuron, which provides distributed enterprise solutions. “Interestingly, it’s not the technical competence of the outsourcer that normally derails projects. Instead, it’s a lack of communications and common understanding of simply what’s important and how to meld diverse organizations into a cohesive unit.”
So how can project leaders keep outsourced, especially internationally outsourced, projects on track and on budget? Following are eight helpful suggestions.
Help the outsourced party (or parties) understand your business and goals
“This does not entail endless training sessions and lengthy document exchange [but] sharing the important elements of your business, your customers, your business processes, your people,” says Fountain. “The more of these elements you can share effectively, the more likely your outsourcer will be aligned [with your business goals and be able to] create real value.”
Make sure everyone’s working from the same playbook
“Always create a playbook that contains step-by-step instructions,” says Kapil Bagai, manager, LexInnova Technologies, a legal outsourcing and technology consulting firm. “This facilitates consistent application of your requirements. A well designed and robust workflow builds accuracy and promotes overall effectiveness,” he points out. Furthermore, it’s important to “provide the team with necessary background information and material that could help them in further streamlining and managing the project.”
Also, when working with team members whose first language may not be English, be cognizant of the fact that that written requirements may not be enough. So, if possible, supplement written communication with wireframes, annotated diagrams and other visual aids to clearly convey your needs. The more specific you are, the better the chance of getting the deliverable you are looking for.
In addition, “your processes should involve a tracking mechanism [metrics] for measuring the team’s productivity and quality,” says Bagai.
Be mindful, and respectful, of everyone’s time zone – and use them to your advantage
“When the team working on a project is in different time zones, it is good to know the time difference and schedule meetings that suit both parties,” says Bagai. “Being concerned about your team’s time builds a level of trust and motivates them to work harder.”
You can also use large time zone differences to your advantage. For example, if you have outsourced part of your project to India, which is 9.5 hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, you can send them something at the end of your business day, they can work on it while you are sleeping and have it back to you at the start of the next business day.
Make sure everyone’s working off the same files
“Enable globally distributed teams to collaborate as if in the same office by ensuring that there is a single authoritative version of a file,” suggests Randy Chou, CEO, Panzura, a global cloud storage provider. “This allows teams to work on the same file at the same time without overwriting work of others. This is especially important for applications like design, software development, architectural, and engineering where document integrity issues can cause major delays [and] incur significant additional expense.”
Have good project management software – and make sure all parties use it
“Provide your team with a collaborative software solution that allows them to work together,” says Bassem Handy, vice president of Enterprise Strategy, Procore, a provider of construction project management software. “With immediate access to project data, team members can spend less time tracking down information and more time being productive. Project team members and stakeholders alike will have visibility into the project, keeping everyone on the same page.”
“We have a team of 20 developers overseas, and all of our development work is conducted from this office,” explains Mark Tuchscherer, cofounder and president, Geeks Chicago. “The primary piece of advice I would offer [in regard to managing outsourced or far-flung projects] is to have excellent management software,” he says. “We use JIRA because we are an agile company, but something like Asana would work as well. Everything should run through the software; never use email to manage projects.”
Sync up regularly
“Agree in advance to be kept updated on a fixed schedule,” says Chok Leang Ooi, CEO, AgilityIO, a global consulting firm helping entrepreneurs. “Sync ups can be done on a daily or weekly basis, but be disciplined about keeping to the agreed upon timing, especially if your outsourced team is in another time zone.”
“Effective communication, especially with new or off-site employees, is key to creating a more efficient, productive and profitable project,” says Handy. “Whether you are using Google Chat or Slack, keeping all project communication in one central location will increase accountability and allow all team members to communicate in real time.”
Hold regular video chats
“Face-to-face interaction (even if done electronically) is vitally important to developing a solid relationship and rapport with your team that ensures alignment on objectives and milestones,” says Patrick Rice, CEO, Lumidatum, a predictive analytics company. “Tools like Skype, Slack, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts make it so easy to stay connected and interact with teammates,” wherever they are.
Treat outsourced member of your team with respect
“Take some time to get to [know] the members of [the] team,” advises Fountain. “Whether through a video conference or other means, put faces to names and get to know what makes them tick. Bottom line: treat your outsourced team like the partner you expect them to be” and they will be.