Sunday, July 10, 2011

The challenging setup of an offshore project

After managing a few agile projects from India and learning the tricks of the trade, I have been wondering why life is much easier when you are working closely with the client as compared to working offshore. What worried me more was that I had to learn and use a lot more of project management techniques (making trade offs , managing risks etc..) from offshore, but what mattered while at a local client was building relationships and managing client expectations.

The answer to that is partly the challenging setup of an offshore project. Here are some of the odds one needs to battle with up front while delivering from offshore.

Budget is a critical constraint

There are no 2 ways about this. Clients try offshore when they are constrained by the cost of the project. And with that, among all the variables a project manager can play with, cost becomes a constant.

This means that if you made a release plan with certain velocity assumptions initially which do not come good in the first few iterations, you cannot increase your team size easily (given enough work could be done in parallel) as the client will not be happy with the increase in cost.

A burning business backlog to be delivered

It is quite natural for client to have their own IT teams build the necessary software required to run their business. The in house IT team guarantees close collaboration with the business. All is well until the in house team cannot deliver which is when the business backlog of features starts growing, and the business slowly starts losing trust of their IT team. This is typically when an offshore vendor is called for to help the IT team climb the mountain of business backlog they have built up by not delivering consistently.

When you look at this from offshore, you are looking at a scope full of must have features which if not delivered in the next few months, will almost kill the business. Negotiating on such a backlog is never an easy conversation with the business people.

Negotiating is difficult from miles away

What makes negotiation worse is the fact that the offshore team is sitting thousands of miles away from where the actual business is. Building rapport with senior client stakeholders can no more be done via hall way conversations or over a water cooler. If you even needed 5 minutes from a client to talk about the priority of a single defect, you cannot just walk over to his desk. All these become formal conference calls over phone or video conference.

Client IT teams end up micromanaging offshore vendors

There is nothing worse for a project than a backlog full of must haves, very minimal budget, lack of trust from the business and an IT vendor half way down the globe trying to deliver. Given such a scenario, it is natural for a client IT team to be more risk averse and to micro manage their IT vendors.

A slip in velocity is treated as a red alert with the need for a full time vendor project manager to provide explanations to their client IT counterpart.

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