Offshore Technical Due Diligence

A couple years ago I went through a technical due diligence (TDD) of several relatively small offshore vendors. The vendors were providing product development services for one of my clients, the vendors also supported operations of the SaaS for all of the products. The client had fully outsourced s/w product development and support to those vendors and retained practically no technology resources internally with exception of MIS / SaaS IT support.

The goal of the TDD process was to asses whether the vendors are efficient and can continue performing fairly complex projects involving working with sensitive information. There are a couple important distinctions here:

  • The vendors were in large degree focused on the product development for my client and the rest of their business was relatively small.
  • The vendors have been performing services for a number of years with very light oversight from the client’s side.
  • The quality of work to date has been on a low side yet deemed sufficient for the money.

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Laws of Nature

I just added a new post to my new blog Common Sense ManagementLaws of Nature and the Need for Management. It touches upon one of my favorite metaphors – application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics to management and offshore outsourcing (see also Fundamental Laws of Outsourcing). The message common to these posts is quite simple – you must stay on a top of your projects, resources and engagements otherwise they would quickly deteriorate.

Having said that I have to admit I should pay more attention to what I preach and follow my own recommendations. Just a few days ago I was going through a small project that seemed to be falling behind. The issues became clear in a few minutes after I walked in the meeting discussing the project status.

The objectives for the project I stated about two months ago were lost and the void was filled in by something substantially more complex (And that illustrates another law – “nature abhors a vacuum”). My offshore team was happy to work on more challenging projects, estimates appeared too high, that required in-depth analysis, more people were getting involved, more issues discovered, that generated substantial amount of R&D that increased the complexity by an order of magnitude… Involved in the meeting there were six people from onsite and almost as many from offshore.

For me, at this point an unattached side observer, it was obvious that the efforts being extended to address the project exceeded the value of it by a great margin. It was not at all clear to people so passionately involved in resolving the problem.

About an hour later it was all over. The vicious circle was broken as the proverbial Gordian Knot. The projects objectives were not only restated but addressed. It required 15 minutes from an engineer who had not been even aware of the discussion. Yet the sunk cost of the project was unrecoverable, exceptionally high and not justifiable by any means. Is there anyone to blame for it except the manager (me) who abdicated the project to those who did not have enough technical depth to cut through the distractions of secondary objectives?

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Launching Common Sense Management

I spent a bit of time cleaning up the Site Map and while doing that I noticed that some of the posts have only loose relevance to outsourcing. I put them in a new category – Common Sense Management (CSM). CSM is not a widely used or a popular term. I started using it awhile ago to describe management and leadership style I apply in my day job – running technology teams building software products and services.

CSM is built on top of traditional techniques as well as new methodologies that at some point were considered controversial and now are widely accepted. “Common Sense” in CSM term doesn’t mean “agreed by many” or “widespread knowledge”. CSM stands for application of simple straight-forward solutions to problems that managers face on a daily basis. The best illustration to the term of Common Sense I have ever heard of was a story about “space pen”. Supposedly many years ago NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would write well in the space. Weightless ink presented a serious technical challenge which was successfully addressed by “space pen”… Russian cosmonauts used a Common Sense solution to the problem – pencils…

CSM is a huge topic – it covers multiple aspects of leading and managing people, teams, projects, engagements, and so on. So I decided to start a new blog Common Sense Management – Tips, Tricks and Traps of Technology Leadership. CSM applies to leading all kind of teams and engagements, not only technology, yet with my experience and knowledge limited to that domain I’ll do better staying focused on the technology field.

My first post in the new blog was to some degree a repetition – I wrote about 10 Golden Rules of Bargaining, the post is a bit different from Offshore Negotiations and Rules of Haggling – it is a using Presentation 2.0 style and if you are interested in the topic is probably worth checking out.

I am not sure how frequently I will update my new blog and how it will affect my postings in this blog. Since I only write while commuting the total volume is limited by my abilities and length of BART ride. Well, as they say in France – Vivra verra…

Five Steps to Keeping your Vendor

I started my earlier post Five Steps to Keeping your Business with comparison of an offshoring engagement to a bad marriage: courting, expensive wedding, honeymoon, initial struggles, mundane irritation, aggravated frustration, and bitter divorce. The post touched upon the most important steps vendors should take to keep their business. Now let me cover the buyer’s side. And first let’s discuss a couple reasons for keeping your vendors. Of course if a vendor fails your expectations by a large margin there are not too many reasons for keeping that vendor, if any. If the vendor is perfect the thought of changing them is rather unlikely. (Please do let me know what your vendor is in this case, so far I fail to find one!) The question is relevant to vendors that in general deliver on expectations and sometimes exceed them and yet are in many ways imperfect, sometimes even worse than that. To some degree these reasons for keeping the vendor summarize to “Don’t fix if it’s not broken” – Continue reading

Data Entry Gig: Execution Control

In my earlier post Notes from a Data Entry Gig I covered a few areas related to a small data entry project. There were several areas that were left untouched, one of them – execution control, is worth covering by itself.

There are many things you can do to get execution under control on medium to large scope engagements. Project/program management, account reviews, etc. That’s not the methodology to be used on a small gig such as limited scope web research, data entry, SEO, etc.

Considering that discipline and control issues associated with freelancing have to do with a lot of its Cons I was rather skeptical farming out data entry to a few gals in several small cities in Philippines. One would say “it’s a small data entry, what can go wrong”, yet you and I know the possibilities to screw it up are endless. “And then I saw the tool, Now I am a believer.” [almost from Neil DiamondContinue reading