The business definition of a team is two or more people working together towards the achievement of a common goal. Nevertheless, the expansion of the internet, globalization, and overall changes in political and cultural scenes have changed the understanding of this definition, as “together” is no longer understood as “in one place”. While the ability to leverage the potential of world’s talents is a great chance for businesses, it poses challenges to a project management process, as distributed teams may seriously hamper reaching a common goal.
Now, the global community no longer sees outsourcing and staff augmentation, a popular cooperation model in IT outsourcing, as totally new unfamiliar concepts. On the one hand, this has made businesses around the world more inclined to hire remote teams. On the other hand, this has made companies feel more secure about IT outsourcing, which makes them disregard viable risks that are inevitably concerned with distributed project management.
In particular, distributed projects often have the following risk factors:
- Cultural differences. Understanding of one’s role in the team, perception of time and perception of power structures heavily rely on the cultural norms and beliefs. In addition, the latter determine communication norms, giving and understanding of feedback in particular. The problem is people tend to expect others to have the same perceptions and expectations as they do. This is where the distributed teams often collapse unless there is a proper distributed team management in place.
- Understanding of tasks and requirements. While understanding of tasks is an important aspect in any project management process, it is critical when managing distributed teams, as due to geographical distance and difference in time zones, immediate clarification of tasks is often impossible.
- Knowledge management and “big picture”. It is difficult to ensure that the distributed team shares the same knowledge of the product and its environment. There is a risk that an offshore team will not see a “big picture” behind the work they do, which translates in a lower morale and reduced motivation.
- Trust issues. Trust is difficult to build when people do not spend meaningful time in person. At the same time, the lack of trust between inshore and offshore project stakeholders disrupts open communication and increases the risk of insider threat.
- Language. Despite using one language for business communication (English, as a rule), outsourcing companies and offshore teams risk facing misunderstanding due to the use of the non-native language, as many words have subtle connotations learners are often not aware of and people tend to imply something without explaining it explicitly. Thus, it may happen that understanding the words, a person fails to correctly understand the message.
We, in Agiliway, have witnessed all of these and other risk factors cause great projects to fail. At the same time, we have acknowledged that assigning a local Project Manager with strong expertise in distributed project management and project risk management can substantially mitigate these risks. Thus, Agiliway has made it a rule to provide a Project Manager with previous experience of managing distributed teams for EACH offshore team that we provide. This is done both in the framework of staff augmentation contracts or to manage projects outsourced to us; irrespectile whether the client understands the need in it or no.
A local Project Manager ensures the success of the distributed project by:
- developing clear processes of setting tasks for the remote team and tracking progress towards their completion;
- ensuring that the offshore team understands their tasks, roles and responsibilities;
- developing means to leverage the difference in time;
- communicating cultural differences to each party to facilitate understanding;
- monitoring and facilitating communication between the offshore team, the client, and the onshore team;
- monitoring job satisfaction of the offshore team and voicing concerns to the client, which might not be communicated directly due to language issues, lack of trust or differences in working cultures;
- transmitting a vision of a “big picture” to the remote team, boosting their job engagement;
- ensuring the availability and proper use of communication and task tracking tools.
All in all, those who claim that IT outsourcing is risk free are probably underestimating the risks due to the lack of relevant experience. At the same time, the presence of risks calls for accurate project risk management rather than for the refusal to outsource, as receiving quality IT services at the competitive price can make a great difference. If you have any questions or doubts concerning IT outsourcing or the need to engage a local Project Manager, feel free to contact our expert for a piece of advice or consulting.