How to establish communication protocols with your offshore dev teams

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Posted by Brian Borg

The global IT outsourcing market is expected to grow by $98 billion by 2024, and for good reason. Outsourcing to offshore development teams opens the door to specialized talent that may not be available locally and helps your business scale up and down with ease - all without assuming the cost and risk of hiring in-house resources.

Working with a remote dev/QA team isn’t like working with an in-house department, though. It’s important to establish the right communication protocols to ensure transparency throughout your project.

Here are a few things to consider.

1. Have you set clear expectations about communication?

Setting the right communication expectations as early as possible gives your project the best chance of success.

Whether it’s identifying communication styles, recognizing differences in company culture or knowing how to handle any unexpected problems, clear guidelines mean everyone knows the who, what and why of communicating before they begin work for the day.

2. Have you defined the purpose of your communication channels?

Understanding the ‘how’ of communication with your offshore dev team is also fundamental. Some teams prefer communication by email or IM, others prefer face-to-face conference calls.

Whatever the preference, be sure to clearly define the purpose of each communication platform you use. For example, here at OnPath we use:

  • Slack for the ongoing flow of conversation within a project;
  • Jira tickets for specific info regarding a bug or feature; and
  • Confluence for capturing changes to requirements, system diagrams and models, and other project-level documentation.

Using communications tools in these distinct ways avoids unnecessary distractions and retains clarity over who says what.

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3. Have you identified leadership roles?

As the point of contact and the project leader, it’s up to you to follow progress closely and develop a strong relationship with your entire team, local or otherwise.

Naturally, it's important to include the entire team when reviewing functional requirements or system changes. But it's also important to designate an offshore lead who is capable of understanding the full complexities of the project, as well as communicating technical subtleties to other remote engineers on the team.

Having a remote single point of contact not only encourages ownership by the lead, but is your proxy for the offshore team to answer questions and keep everyone productive while you’re busy or offline.

4. Have you addressed time zone challenges?

There are pros and cons to working on different time zones. On the one hand, urgent problems can be solved while you’re asleep, thereby increasing the overall dev cycle velocity. On the other, you might struggle to communicate effectively because the working hours don’t overlap.

Be mindful of when your offshore team is online, establish mutually convenient blocks of time to overlap your workday, and clarify expectations during these periods regarding communication responsiveness.

By doing this, you remove all points of communication frustration and can address feedback, explain tasks, and then rest assured that your team is working hard towards the same goal.

5. Are you using collaborative tools effectively?

Tools like Jira and Rally Software allow you to manage an entire development project holistically. More importantly, they let both your internal and offshore teams work together collaboratively and transparently. Slack and Zoom have become common household tools given the work-from-home guidelines in place since the coronavirus.

When it comes to progress reporting, these tools are critical. Ultimately, they give everyone the ability to chip in on a project while working under one singular roof.

The bottom line of strong communication

One in three projects fail due to ineffective communication, according to project management company BrightWork. What’s worse, BrightWork also found that 56 percent of budgets allocated to projects are at risk due to poor communication.

There are countless horror stories where offshore teams have built the wrong system, which often costs the client more than projected and leads to untimely deliveries. It typically results in delivering a poor-quality product.

Communication may lie at the heart of all failed projects, but it also lies at the core of every successful project. Regardless of where your teams are located, it’s up to you as project lead to establish and effectively manage communication protocols, following the tips outlined here. Only then can you give your project the best chance of success.

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