I recently had the very pleasant opportunity to see a colleague from a massive offshore integration project – US, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Bahrain, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. Retelling the stories and laughing about challenges that were at the time no laughing matter refreshed my memory regarding just how difficult communication among offshore teams can be. In looking for some wisdom on the subject, I came across Nick Krym’s article The Five Cs of Offshore Communication – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You, https://pragprog.com/magazines/2013-02/the-five-cs-of-offshore-communications.
Krym does a really nice job of presenting his five Cs of communication, why they matter, and how to attend to them. He includes: Conciseness, Clarity, Completeness, Cross-cultural Aspects, and Consideration. He elaborates on each with effective, usable principles for application. Krym’s conclusion – attending to these will increase the productivity of your project or team, mitigate the risk of failure, and lead to better outcomes overall.
In addition to Krym’s excellent framework, I would like to propose two additional Cs: Core Message Testing and Correspondent Interaction.
Every project plan or development effort has a few core elements, which are so critical to understanding the project or product that missing them is fatal. I think of these as the very distilled points I would limit myself to in an executive brief – the points that if missed put the effort completely off the rails. For these points, it is worth building in a communication feedback structure to ensure that the point is conveyed clearly and understood fully. Any design effort has built-in tests, which if not passed, halt the project. Communication of critical elements should be no different – core message goes out; core message understanding is tested. Your own organizational structure and the culture of your offshore team will provide some parameters for how to design your core message test. Realizing too late that you should have done this is a very painful process.
Correspondent interaction is a bit like using a trusted translator. No matter how much care we take to respect, consider, and adapt to our global partners, it is highly unlikely that any one of us will become culturally fluent. Unless we spend a great deal of time in-culture, we will always have blind spots. Your correspondent is your communication peer – a person on the other end of the geographic divide who is skilled at your language and expert at the local business dynamic. This is the person with whom you debrief regularly – the person from whom you learn where you hit the mark and where you missed, where you understand correctly, and where you are in the dark. It is incredibly important that this person be a peer to you (see Krym’s explanation of Cross-cultural Aspects). While it helps for this person to be from within your organization, it can be done using a local business partner. Contract it into the work; you will be glad you did.
As challenging as it can be, the rewards of learning to manage offshore teams and projects are many. Personally, I have found it to be the most rewarding part of my work life. If you have thoughts on this topic, please leave us a comment. If you would like to learn how we provide snippet-level control and facilitation to offshore development projects, check us out at Snip2Code.com.
Kelly Marcilliat is Chief Revenue Officer at Snip2Code and has worked globally in integrated technology.