Offshore Communication Strategy Basics

Communications is one of the main factors in any sizable IT effort, and for offshore engagements it’s impossible to overstate the value and importance of it. How the communications are planned, maintained and controlled depends on variety of factors: size of the engagement, SDLC and project management methodology, organizational maturity on both sides, time zone differences, complexity of domain or technology just to name a few.

The first step in ensuring solid communications is planning. The communications plan should outline all the most important components of the process, media, participating parties, etc. I prefer to use PMP style communication plans even for small engagements. It doesn’t mean that you should establish PMO structure and write 10 page meeting notes after every phone call, you only need to take some standard template and adjust it for your specific case. Here is an example how a meetings section of a simplified communication plan might look:

Meeting Frequency / Schedule Media Participant Run By Description / agenda Guideline Duration
Daily Status Call Daily, 9:00 AM PDT Skype All team members Team Lead, TBD For each team member

1. Status updates for the previous period (since last meeting)
2. Tasks planned for the next period
3. Any impediments associated with execution of the tasks going forward

< 30 Min
Weekly Status Weekly,
Monday at 11:00 AM PDT
Skype Offshore team SPOC

On-site team SPOC
Others, TBD

Offshore SPOC 1. High-level status review2. For each project / initiative
a. Status updates for the previous period (since last meeting)
b. Tasks planned for the next period
c. Any impediments associated with execution of the tasks going forward
3. Other, as needed
a. Specific Items
b. Risk & Risk Mitigation
< 1 Hr
Monthly Status Last Thursday of the Month, 11:00 AM PDT Skype All team members Offshore SPOC 1. High-level status review2. Other, as needed
a. Specific Items / Announcements
b. High & Lows
3. Q & A
< 1 Hr
Account Review Last Friday of the Quarter, 11:00 AM PDT Face to Face / Skype Account Manager, Others TBD Account Manager 1. High-level status review2. Other, as needed
a. Specific Items / Announcements
b. High & Lows
3. Q & A
< 1 Hr

The next thing is getting the plan to work. That is more difficult than it appears. Communications as any other process have a tendency to deteriorate unless enforced and controlled. Small ad hoc changes, canceling meetings for convenience or scheduling constraints, and focus of executive sponsors drifting away accumulate resulting in communications break down and a domino effect on multiple aspects of the engagement. That is a common problem across the industry and offshore only aggravates it.

There is no panacea or one-fit-all solution for keeping communications intact and maintaining their quality. Below are a few tips to consider:

  • Consider steering committee / PMO structure or some other org structure with the sole / prime objective of governing the engagement.
  • Audit activities, if size of the engagement allows, consider dedicated auditing group. Dedicated auditing is fairly expensive proposition, one of the easiest way of doing it using a third party perform the audits. Engaging outsourcing advisors for these activities could work out quite well.
  • Consider a dedicated offshore manager; a person responsible for all aspects of the offshore activities. The person should have very solid PM/PMO skills, in-depth understanding of the processes such as SDLC, strong knowledge of the domain, and of course understanding of the offshore.

The items above could increase the engagement overhead and consequently the total cost of outsourcing quite substantially and they do not scale down beyond certain point. Whether you consider them or now you should put regular communication tools in place, here are some examples:

  • Project Wiki and/or dashboard. That’s a great helper with relatively low support overhead. Some vendors offer such tools as part of their offering. I consider that big value-add. In case vendor doesn’t offer the out-of-box project dashboard you should build one using some open source wiki, Sharepoint or any tool you are familiar with.
  • Time tracking. While not a communication tool and bane of existence for people on the team Time Tracking is unbeatable control tool that offers insights in the time allocation and forces you to communicate when any odd behavior is detected.
  • IM tools with VoIP features, in particular I recommend Skype. The value of instant access to resources is difficult to overestimate.
  • Open group chats using Skype or other IM technologies. A great way to stay abreast of what’s going on the project, pick up important communication breakdown clues, control information flow.
  • There are plenty of great team collaboration tools starting with fairly simple ones like google docs or basecamp and all the way to high end enterprise style applications.

The tools will not prevent communication breakdowns, they will help you control the flow and make them much less frequent and hopefully less damaging.

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