Finding a great outsourcing coordinator

About six months ago one of my old friends, VP of Engineering for an East Coast based company, asked me to help him to find a good offshore manager / outsourcing coordinator. That by no means was an easy task and in this case, a not-so-rich relatively small company, it was even more challenging. It took us about two months and few dozens of candidates to find someone who we perceived as a great match. A few weeks later our pick hit the ground running and now, three months after starting the work, he is continuing to exceed our expectations and has proved to be a rock star of an offshore manager. I guess that’s at this point we can give ourselves a pad on a back a look back and see what we did:

First, the task & landscape: the task was to find someone who would manage/coordinates offshore activities for a small product development company. The company’s product, written primarily in Microsoft technologies, has been around for ~15 years and inevitably grew in complexity, size and not so much in quality of code within. Some of the new product development and the lion’s share of maintenance has been outsourced for almost as long as the product development itself. SDLC is a modified waterfall with some elements of agile. The outsourcing team size has fluctuating around average of twenty.

Over these years four vendors had a chance to deliver the services. The current vendor had to pick up the debris from the previous one about three years ago. The previous vendor, an Indian company with about 5,000 employees, did a decent job initially than the quality of services started to deteriorate and at some point relationships went quickly south. The new vendor also an Indian company with roughly the same number of employees executed quite well for the first year – year and a half and then…

My friend saw the signs of the story repeating itself and after root-cause analysis came to a conclusion that he needed to put someone from his own team to oversee / coordinate offshore operations on a full-time basis. “I think that offshore coordinators my vendor has been giving me are the main problem. The conflict of interests, lack of project management skills, and technical inability has been common trade among all of them. I like my offshore team, but I know where we are heading…”

Second, sourcing: We re-defined the job description from what the vendor suggested / used in their internal recruitment. We significantly relaxed most of the technical requirements, increased project management / offshore coordination requirements, and added personality section. Here is what we came up with:

Technical must have

  • Minimum of 7 years in SW industry under a formal SDLC methodology
  • Working knowledge and minimum of 3 years hands-on experience with .NET, MS SQL
  • Working knowledge of ETL, Reporting and Analytics tools including MS Reporting Services.
  • In-depth knowledge of s/w project management techniques, 3+ years in offshore coordinator role.
  • Superb communication skills

Technical nice to have

  • PMP certification
  • Scrum master certification
  • Understanding of / experience with mortgage industry

Personal must have

  • Process oriented, high attention to details
  • Highly analytical, understands value of metrics
  • Preference towards small company environment
  • Self-motivated multi-tasker
  • Exceptional work ethics

Personal nice to have

  • Extravert / peoples person
  • Has personal ties / came from New Delhi / Noida area

We used multiple search channels – personal networks, job postings, job-board backdoors, headhunters, and even offshore vendors. The filtering was pretty simple – if the person did not comply with requirements of Technical Must Have section they were not considered. Compliance with Personal Must Have was assessed during phone screens with the same binary brutality. The quality of resumes from vendors and headhunters was pretty poor with roughly 10 resumes yielding a single candidate for a phone screen. The quality of internal reference was pretty low – none of the candidates made it past phone screen. We received a limited number pretty good resumes from job postings, job-board backdoors brought up a couple of good candidates as well.

Third, interviews: The phone screens were scripted with close-ended questions for technology must have and open ended questions for personality assessment. We gave the script to recruiters, vendors and our internal recruiters. “Superb communication skills” turned out to be one of the most restrictive requirements. About one out of 3 candidates made it to the face to face interviews. BTW, no F2F for me, I interviewed candidates over Skype.

F2F interviews were straightforward with primary focus on validation of technical skills and personality assessment. Note that probably not more than 30% of the time was spent on technical portion of the interviews, the rest of the time was dedicated to the soft aspects / personality match. Each F2F interview included at least three interviewer (we aimed for 5 but typically not more than 3 made it). Each interviewer had to fill out a simple questionnaire right after the interview which were discussed after the interview. The interviewers also had to score the candidates on 1 to 5 scale in 13 categories, such as

  • SW development skills, .NET and MS SQL (1 – lacks basics, 5 – is a solid mid-to-junior level developer)
  • SW development skills, ETL / Reporting (1 – lacks basics, 5 – is a solid junior level developer)
  • SDLC (1 – lacks basics, 5 – demonstrates very good understanding of waterfall and decent understanding of agile)
  • Project Management (1 – lacks basics, 5 – can answer / elaborate on every question in the questionnaire)
  • and so on

We put weights on categories giving project management and personal skills higher importance. Maximum total weighted score was 95. Candidates with score below 70 were dismissed. Our target was to find five candidates that fit the bill in two months, actually four people made it to the final (second) round, one of whom was dismissed at that point. Out of three remaining candidates we went with the one who we considered the best match (unfortunately the most expensive as well – we got him through a headhunter) and he accepted the offer.

Major findings / lesson learned

  • Discipline and process paid off well in many aspects including much less of impact on the interviewers.
  • Questionnaires rule. Wish we used SurveyMonkey instead of printed / excel templates.
  • Giving questionnaires to headhunters / vendors was a great idea
  • Personality match is the most difficult to assess. Most of difference of opinion on candidates came from that arena. Wish we had more discussions or some training of interviewers prior to the hiring marathon.
  • Having a veto right helps. Veto must be justified / explain.
  • Overseeing / coordinating the process was exceptionally helpful

One thought on “Finding a great outsourcing coordinator

  1. This just shows how important it is for a company to create standards and basis for an outsourcing project. Finding an offshore outsourcing partner doesn’t just happen in a blink of an eye. It requires proper and intensive planning. The plan should also show how feasible it is for both parties. I think what you’ve written here should be one of the best resources for a company to look into before planning.

    As always, great post Nick!

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