Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Turn-around Story

Once our onshore teams are beyond FUD, our next challenge is making sure that the success of the onshore and offshore teams are one and the same thing.

I had one situation where a first-time manager was managing a 5-person offshore team. This manager wasn't really ready for the job; it was kind of thrown upon him without discussion or training. It wasn't so much that he was affraid his job would be sent offshore but that he didn't really understand what was expected of him so he couldn't help his offshore team be successful. He was dictatorial, he gave his team the busy-work that he didn't want to do himself, and his offshore team resented his behavior. Their performance was poor; and they were all ready to quit!

Before replacing the manager, we gave him a chance to improve: we set clear goals for him, provided plenty of coaching, and re-engaged his team on a visit to India.

Now, they are a model of effective offshore development at DoubleClick and he is probably our most improved manager. He invests tremendous time and energy in making his offshore team successful by focusing on communications, motivation, knowledge transfer, and team building. His team's performance is outstanding!

A side note: this particular team does visual design work for us, which requires tremendous collaboration with development teams both in N. America and India. It's a very challenging domain to send offshore, to begin with!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Overcoming Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt in Offshore Outsourcing

Offshore outsourcing can easily backfire if team members succumb to Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD). Interests of internal and external team members start to diverge, and everyone becomes less effective. The key to overcoming FUD is to bridge the gap between "us" and "them" so that internal and external team members are interdependent on one another for shared success.

At DoubleClick, we build virtual project teams that include full-time employees and consultants from our offshore vendor. The bottom line for us: on a day-to-day basis, teams that are successful think of one another as peers working for the same company. The only differences should be physical location and who writes the paychecks. Teams that aren't as successful tend to think of the offshore team members as a souce of cheap, overflow labor to take on everything that the folks in N. America don't want to be bothered with.

Our model doesn't work at all if our full-time employees are affraid that their jobs will be sent offshore. When guided by FUD, they can't have an interest in their offshore team members' success. One point we continually remind our onshore team about is that we are growing both teams, not just the offshore team. We're not laying off onshore personnel or reducing onshore headcount through voluntary attrition. No matter what we say, though, our actions have to do the hard work of convincing skeptics that their jobs are not in jeopardy.

FUD is not limited to full-time employees, either. Offshore team members can also be uncertain about their future if their client isn't fully engaging them in the project. For example, if the offshore team does not have access to enough, timely information about the business and the project requirements, they will be uncertain about their project's chances for success, upon which their future promotions will depend. They may tend to follow stated requirements to the letter than ask questions to clarify requirements. In the best-case scenario, requirements will need to be clarified and the project will be late. In the worst-case scenario, requirements will not be clarified and the deliverable will not deliver the expected value.

Narrowing the gap between client and vendor helps address both onshore and offshore team members' FUD. At DoubleClick, we started by building an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Some teams had a long history of working together and this atmosphere was already present. Others were just getting started and had to be actively coached to see their common goals and interdependence before they were open to mutual trust and respect.

Overcoming FUD, however, is only one step towards effective offshore outsourcing; doing so helps prevent team members from being de-motivated, but it does not necessarily drive team members to maximize performance. This is really "Motivation 101."

For a refresher on motivation, look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Herzberg's Dual Factor theory. In short, Mazlow and Herzberg's theories state that meeting the more basic human needs of physiology, safety, and belongingness is necessary to prevent people from being de-motivated, but not sufficient to motivate people to maximize performance. To drive performance, we must go a step further and address higher-level human needs like self-esteem and self-actualization for both onshore and offshore team members...

But this is a topic for another day.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


I decided to start a blog to encourage an open dialog about issues related to global software development.

For years, large companies have operated software development centers around the world; and many have realized significant returns, as a result. Now, much smaller companies, even emerging companies and startups, are turning to the global development community in search of benefits like lower development costs, increased velocity, improved agility, and access to specialized skills.

These trends are fueling growth in the IT services industry around the World. For instance, The Meta Group predicts a 20% CAGR in the Indian IT services market through 2008. Eastern Europe and China are also rapidly emerging as powerhouses in this segment.

The bottom line is that there is literally a World of options for sourcing development, allowing companies to optimize development and maximize business results. The days of co-located development teams are numbered. It behooves technology professionals at all levels to learn how to be effective in global software development environments.

Please share your thoughts and experiences. In no way do I suggest that I have all of the answers. I will probably make some controversial statements; whether you agree or disagree, I hope you feel comfortable adding your opinion.

I plan to start by capturing my thoughts and observations on offshore outsourcing. My experience with offshore outsourcing started last year, when I joined Doubleclick as VP of Engineering. I am also active in the Society for Information Management NY Metro chapter outsourcing special interest group and the Technology Executives Networking Group, both of which provide much fodder for discussion.