Germany, 10 a.m.: All development team members on one side of the world have arrived in the office (some at the last minute). For us, 10 a.m. is "daily" time. On the other side of the world, the perspective is different. Kuala Lumpur, 4 p.m.: The business day is almost over. Everybody wants to head home, and there’s only this last, annoying, mandatory daily meeting. Hang in there, it’s only 15 more minutes — but is that the best way to greet colleagues on the other side of the world?
Captive offshoring vs. offshore outsourcing
There are several possible scenarios for executing the general management decision to work offshore, including captive offshoring and offshore outsourcing. Captive offshoring (an internal delivery model with team members belonging to the same company) has one huge advantage compared to the outsourcing scenario: Employees know about the company’s values, it’s culture, and the standard processes within the company. It’s much easier to set up a multicultural team when everyone belongs to the same company, because the basic terms that the team uses are the same. In an outsourcing project, the ramp-up phase can be more extensive and time consuming even for a single project, as processes are not established.
Hint: If captive offshoring is possible, it will pay off in the long run.
Our experiences on starting to work in an (Agile) captive offshoring environment
When starting to work in an offshoring environment, there are several obstacles to overcome that are often not on the agenda when the initial management decision to work offshore is taken. Those include:
- Different cultural backgrounds
- Different working styles
- Different understanding of tasks
- Different "languages" spoken, although English is often defined as the main project language
- Different working times concerning public holidays and holidays in general
It is essential to overcome those obstacles as early as possible to avoid bad moods and poor relationships among team members, no matter which side of the world they are on.
Hint: Make sure to promote a culture of open communication. Encourage every team member to speak up if anything is unclear or if any problems arise that the team has not encountered so far.
The onboarding process
It is crucial to have a working and proven onboarding process for new team members in place before establishing the offshore team.
From our experience, onboarding works best if done in one physical place. Yes, the organization may have to fly some of them in. Gather all team members in one location where they can get to know each other, get to know the working styles of their colleagues, and also become acquainted with the people behind the role of "developer" or "ScrumMaster." Make sure to include social events outside of the office to promote both familiarity and team spirit.
Hint: The joint onboarding gathering should not be too short. Besides needing time to agree on the important development principles together, the team also needs enough time to make processes clear, convey cultural values to colleagues, and develop a sense of camaraderie.
Build up "key players" at each location. They will help "live" and teach the processes and company culture to new team members.
Hint: "Key players" are important, but they do not replace in-person onboarding gatherings in one place.
Project planning is important when working in an offshoring environment, especially on a meta-level. In Germany, employees have quite a good amount of contracted, paid holidays. In contrast, there are lots of one- or two-day public holidays in, for example, Malaysia. In Germany employees often take two- to three-week holidays in one go, whereas in Malaysia, personal holidays are often shorter due to the lack of contracted, paid holidays.
Hint: Keep meta-planning in mind. It might not be enough to sit together in sprint planning meetings to decide on the work to be done in the upcoming sprint. There has to be someone with the "big picture" in mind. In a Scrum team, this might be the ScrumMaster, as he or she is responsible for removing impediments with regard to available resources.
How to communicate
First of all, there’s the language barrier, which has to be overcome. If you work in a mostly local environment, the normal project’s language might not be English. Clients might want to communicate in the local language, so it is important to ensure that no information is lost.
Hint: Try to onboard every team member in a detailed way via a joint project kick-off meeting. Make sure that the project goal is clear and visible to everybody all the time, and that the project’s vision is transparent. As not all team members are in one place, use a "digital whiteboard" for transparency.
We noticed that the overall project quality got noticeably better when we introduced professional video equipment for meetings so that everybody could really see all team members, no matter whether they were in Kuala Lumpur or Germany.
Hint: Do not rely only on telephone calls! Video is essential to physically see others, as communication consists of much more than the spoken word.
Communication is essential, including outside of planned Agile meetings. It is important to stay in touch as much as possible and to talk and work jointly together on development tickets.
Advantages of working in a captive offshoring environment
As soon as the processes are clear and established, team members have been onboarded successfully, and the team spirit has been strengthened, you might find that multicultural, distributed teams may be one of the success factors for successfully delivering projects to the client on time, within budget, and with high quality.
Hint: In our experience, cultural influences in multicultural teams actually improve project quality.
- Development can move faster due to the ability to have 16 hours of work instead of 8 hours per business day.
- Development can be produced at lower cost due to the fact that offshoring locations often have lower daily rates.
- Development can often be delivered at a higher quality, as the time difference makes it possible to encounter and — more important — fix bugs promptly.
So let’s come back to the initial question about the most proper greeting and farewell in the daily stand-up meeting.
We’ve decided to always make it the shortest business day in our lives. We all start the daily by saying "good morning" and end it a quarter of an hour later by saying "good night," no matter whether the team members are in Malaysia, Germany, or elsewhere.
That’s how the dream of almost all of us comes true — working off a business day in just 15 minutes.