Offshore Risks: Team and Personal Impacts

Transferring even a small portion of your development offshore has inevitable impacts on your team and yourself. The impact could be dramatic to a degree that it defeats the purpose of outsourcing. Each of the dimensions of the impact should be considered a risk that needs mitigation plan and is dealt with efficiently through out the lifecycle of outsourcing. I’ll touch upon most significant areas:

  • Loss of team support / respect / relationships with the team. Even the most open minded employees on your team will be concerned with offshore introduction. And they should, the practice of outsourcers replacing the sheer fabric of the company, it’s all too familiar. As an instigator of the process you are likely to become a target of negativity. It comes in all shapes and forms with essence being “you are a traitor of ”. I remember well one of my key architects giving me an ultimatum “it’s me or them”. I do not know of any bullet proof shield here, the chances are some percentage of loss will happen no matter what you do. For me the best risk mitigation strategy in this case has always been transparency and honesty – when you can afford it. I do my best to personally deliver the message to every member of the team or alternatively setup a process which ensures consistent and accurate delivery of the message.
  • Loss of team spirit / internal unease. Mutual trust even in small teams has some level below 100%. Even a perfectly delivered message will be taken with a grain of salt and generate negativity. So only medicine here is reinforcement of the message – positive reassurance is like food – you can not get enough for life time in one seating.
  • Decrease in team’s productivity / commitment. Loss of key personnel / technology and business knowledge loss. Loss of team spirit / internal unease even if managed well is likely to result in tangible losses. You need to plan for them in advance of introducing the idea into your organization. Do you have sufficient redundancy in your organization to deal with inevitable loss of key personnel? Are your schedules have sufficient padding to cover for loss of productivity? Are your knowledge transfer / retention devices in place? If answer to any of these and similar questions is ‘No” you need to deal with closing the gap first and searching for vendor after that.

On a personal front the risks are substantial as well. What would championing an offshore initiative would do to your career? What’s your organization’s risk tolerance? What is its failure tolerance? How would the failures of the vendor affect your position in the organization? And so on – there are countless questions to ask here.

But even more important set of questions is around lifestyle impact. Are you prepared to shift work hours? Are you ready to deal with the never ending stress? What is your own failure tolerance?

I remember welcoming Paul Lake (an outstanding account manager for a prominent IT outsourcing company)  to a role of AM on an offshore engagement.  While no stranger to IT outsourcing he had never dealt with offshore side of the house.  “That’s the end of the life as you know it…” – I told Paul – “You will now need to learn how to start every call with “I am sorry, I have to apologize…” I wish I was at least somewhat wrong…

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