Communication Best Practices When Working With an Offshore Software Development Partner
SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT | 14 Mar 2020
When your internal team is stretched to capacity and your rate of growth shows no sign of slowing, working with an offshore software development partner is an obvious solution. It’s also increasingly common, taking an ever larger share of the $1.1 trillion set to be spent on IT services in 2020. But integrating and managing new additions to your team, especially when you don’t share an office or even meet face-to-face, can be a tricky proposition.
Like any good relationship, communication is key. If communication is the oxygen of a distributed company, then there’s no reason for offshore development to fail – providing the necessary time, effort and thought is invested into how best to ensure solid communication from the start of a project through to final sign-off.
Good communication strategies allow remote teams to survive and thrive, regardless of the challenges they face. They also mitigate the risks of insufficient knowledge transfer, which has been found to be a key danger for virtual team projects.
But what are the key communication elements you need to consider when you’re building and maintaining a strong and successful relationship with an outsourced development partner? Here are five crucial issues to consider:
1. Structure Communication Processes Before You Begin
Set expectations early on. The more you invest at this stage, the greater rewards you will reap when projects are in full flow and communication proves critical to avoiding a logjam of potential issues and complications.
Remember, though, that communication is a two-way process. Don’t simply impose communication structures on your offshore partner. Align with them to discover a communication strategy that works for both partners. For example, if processes are set up for Basecamp, but they work on Monday, there needs to be clarity from the start about how you’ll operate together. Getting buy-in from your partner on an agreed route forward shows the mutual respect you are working from and builds goodwill from the start.
It’s not just about where you will communicate, though. Take time to agree which stakeholders should be contacted in which situations. Set a framework for how feedback should be provided (monthly reports, weekly updates and daily stand-ups are all vital). And make sure both you and your offshore development team have designated main points of contact. If things go wrong, or something needs urgent clarification, it’s important that everyone knows where to turn.
Whether you’re a CTO or COO, you’ll know from experience that strong communication strategies benefit your entire organisation. It’s no different with your offshore developers. Aligning on everything from key deliverables to timelines, weekly sprints, check-in points and mitigation strategies will put your project on a solid foundation. If these details aren’t clearly understood by all involved, things can quickly crumble when the pressure is on.
2. Outline the Rules of Communication
Setting the terms of engagement between you and your offshore software development partner isn’t just about what will be delivered and when. It’s important early on to determine what should and should not be said to the relevant parties, especially around confidential or sensitive issues.
You should also consider the tone of any communication. Do some research into the cultural sensitivities of the home country of your offshore team. Compared to English-speaking western markets like the United States and the United Kingdom, many offshore teams operate with entirely different social and business expectations. What you might consider a simple instruction may be received as a rude and overbearing command that causes ripples of offense. It’s especially easy to get the tone of written communication wrong, so take time to understand how best to communicate with your new team. Maybe even consider using the odd emoji to provide a visual clue to the intended spirit and tone of your messages.
Parameters should also be set on communication limits. If there is a time difference to consider, are there certain hours when either party does not want to be contacted? Is the relationship going to be based on frequent small messages littered throughout the day, or will both sides find it easier if communication is distilled into one or two larger messages at the start and end of each day?
Finally, document exactly which tools should be used when communicating. This is a crucial agreement because it determines the most effective way for either party to get a response to a pressing matter. It should significantly reduce the chances of messages being missed simply because one side is not checking a certain tool regularly.
3. Highlight the Tools Your Offshore Development Team Needs to Use
Every organisation has its own processes and tech stack around communication. These should not just be understood solely by the relationship leads involved. All outsourced developers need to be familiar with how best to communicate their progress, problems and potential upcoming hurdles.
If a key tool in your stack is new to any of the offshore developers, it’s wise to proactively bring them up to speed rather than just assume they will become familiar either through their own efforts or during the natural progression of the project. Consider setting up a call to talk them through any tools they’re unfamiliar with and look online for appropriate tutorials you could share. Your developers need to know how to use these tools effectively and any limitations or features that may impact or influence your agreed communication strategy.
4. Keep Your Offshore Partner Updated
As a project progresses, it’s easy to lose track of who knows what, who has been involved in which conversations, and what everyone’s short- and long-term expectations are as you continue to move forward.
That’s why the best external development relationships are based on mutual trust, involvement and regular two-way communication. Keeping all stakeholders in the loop is crucial to everyone working towards the same common goal. If changes occur or strategies and delivery schedules evolve, everyone needs to be involved in those discussions.
This gives your offshore software development partner full view of the project and offers them maximum opportunity and scope to plan properly. If you’re proactive in communicating and pre-empting challenges and questions from your offshore developers’ perspectives, you’ll enjoy two huge benefits: a higher likelihood of overall project success, and a much stronger working relationship between your internal and external teams.
5. Build a Relationship Based on Ongoing Collaboration
When you’re working with an offshore team, giving the partner a sense that they’re part of your wider business encourages them to deliver to their full potential. Everyone involved should see your relationship as a partnership, not a hierarchical chain of command. Both parties should have a clear vision of an agreed ‘north star’ and all stakeholders should agree from the outset to be accountable and to provide feedback and guidance in an orderly and timely manner.
Encourage respectful disagreements, as this is one of the few ways to develop new ideas and solutions. Ensure information and decision making is transparent, organised and easily archived, this way decisions can be recorded and accessed by everyone involved whenever necessary. And don’t forget to celebrate every success: positive reinforcement does wonders for morale too!
When it comes to communication, there’s a lot at stake. Poor communication increases the risk of inefficient development, mistakes and misunderstandings. But when client and offshore software development partners work in harmony, sharing information as and when required, the path to success becomes significantly clearer.