Top Ten Mistakes in Offshore Interviews

I intended to put a bunch of illustrations in my book, but only four pics made it there. Space was the major limiting factor, but I guess one of the pictures, 3 monkeys, was not included because it did not pass the “political correctness” bar. Well, I can imagine that some people in the audience could be offended with the term “code monkey”. There was no derogatory indication there, like there was no intent to portray all managers, including myself, as gorillas ;) the main point was actually quite lucid – it’s difficult to find good engineers, especially when during interviews many of them refuse to listen, see what’s going on, or talk.

Finding good engineers is difficult, especially when you are trying to do that through a third party reaching across thousands of miles via poor VoIP connection. There are not too many really good engineers to begin with, so no surprise here. But the lack of talent is not the point of today’s discussion. What I’d like to touch upon is the mistakes we often make while interviewing developers, mistakes that can result in missing those needles in haystack / diamonds in the rough.

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Offshore Interviews: Personality Aspect

There are several common misconceptions about interviewing for “personality” with the offshore resources:

  • It’s irrelevant. These are not employees I am hiring, why would I care about their personality?
  • It’s the same as with local resources: what’s good for the home team is good for the offshore.
  • I let my gut decide or I am good at reading people and I do not need any help here.

Let me start with debunking those myths:

The first one is the easiest. Of course it’s relevant; just think about how much damage a QA engineer without attention to details can do, or how much “value” a Project Manager with no appreciation for authority and processes would bring to a project.

Why isn’t it the same in that case? In some aspects it is, for example for your staff QA engineer you would be interested in someone who has great attention to details, eye for imperfections, appreciates structure and processes, doesn’t mind repetitive work, etc. All these personality traits would be great assets for your offshore QA engineer as well. The difference comes with dynamics of the employment arrangement.

Generally you can not count on keeping offshore resources on your project over two years, after that they are likely to move on; as a matter of fact for the purposes of personality casting you would be looking for just one year in offshore case; hopefully you have a better longevity with local resources, let’s say 3 years. Over that period of time some personality traits will play a role that are not as important when it comes to one year. For example you are looking at résumé of someone who changed his job once a year; that might be a showstopper for staff position but could OK for offshore resources. What about their ambitions, desire to learn new technologies, track record of continuing education, etc. Many aspects of personality become irrelevant when you are looking for offshore resources or turn to opposite.

Another important aspect of personality interviews is the team diversity. I am not talking about race, religion, etc. instead it’s a diversity of the team. I believe in diversity of personality and when building local teams I prefer to have a well balanced but diverse team. For example you need people with “big picture” view as well as “detail” view; you need process fanatics and “break all the rules” mentality. When properly cast and well balanced diverse teams perform much better than homogeneous organizations. Of course casting is a key here, e.g. you do not need a social butterfly to work nightshift processing firewall logs. When it comes to offshore team diversity could mean unnecessary complexity and unpredictability.

One more important consideration in that regard is the fact that careers of offshore resources are not in your hands. In that light again many aspects of personality become irrelevant when you are looking for offshore resources or turn to opposite.

Now, on “I let my gut decide” topic. That’s a common approach to personality interviewing not only in offshore but for staff position all across the industry. I know that some managers are just darn good at reading people and even they make mistakes. I consider myself above average in that skill, mainly because I invested great deal of effort and education in it, and yet I make mistakes, sometimes serious ones. If your gut (intuition) can pinpoint attention to details, ability to strive under pressure, appreciation for processes, impeccable integrity… or an another side dishonesty, habitual irresponsibility, lack of work ethics… well, you probably are working as FBI profiler or psychic reader :) Intuition is important and you should listen to it, no doubts about it. You just should not rely on it or just only on it when selecting members of the team, especially when working remotely, over a phone, and across the cultural differences.

Now, a really hard question: how to define personality match while interviewing offshore developers? Personality interviews are tough to begin with, offshore exacerbate the complexity of the task. The approach I typically use includes several steps:

  • Simplify an ideal personality profile. For example for Black Box Tester I’d be looking only for several personality traits absence of which would be a show stopper: attention to detail, ability to handle stress, and respect for the structure / process.
  • Communicate the desired profile to my vendor with a hope that the screening catches at least obvious mismatch cases.
  • Prepare a few open-ended questions that cater to discovery of those specific traits. For example, “Based on your prior experience please describe a situation when you ability to handle stress helped deliver on engagement objectives”.
  • Take the answers for the face value. If the candidate can fake the answer hopefully they can fake the personality trait till the time the move on to a different project.
  • I usually have a few questions ready but do not necessary ask them all. Sometimes the candidate would fail a few ones just because those are unusual questions, not something they have been condition to hear. But if they can’t learn the drill after I’ve asked them a few questions, it’s not the person I’m interest in hiring anyway.

Interviewing Offshore Resources

The first set of interviews is typically performed during vendor selection stage. The goal of this interview process is not to pick members for the team; instead it is to form your opinion of the vendor capability to build a team. I typically use a speed-dating style interviewing with individual interviews limited to 20 minutes covering ~20 people a day. It is important to have at least two people involved in the interview process working together, one of the main reason for that is a continues feedback and support they can provide to each other to stay on the top of the process and increase quality of discovery.

During this speed-interviewing marathon I am not particular interested in individual performance of the team members. I do make a note of people I really like, in case if the vendor is selected these people would make good prospects for the team.

In order to prepare for the interview and perform it with decent productivity you need to go through the following steps:

  • Define make up of the group you’d like to interview and communicate it to the vendor. For example:

5 Project Managers
5 Tech Leads
5 Business Analysts
10 Java Developers
5 QA Leads
5 QA Black Box Testers
5 QA Automation Engineers

For each of the position you would need to outline rough requirement s, for example Tech Lead may mean 7+ years in SW Development, 5+ years in Java, 5+ years in managing a team for 5+, etc. That list should keep you busy for a couple of days.

  • Communicate to the vendor interview process, goals and objectives
  • Create list of questions for each position. There are a plenty of websites offering tech interview questions and answers. I recommend creating cheat sheets with Q & A and printing them for the interview sessions.
  • Keep track of interview progress with a simple spreadsheet. Below is an example of table. I use 1 – 10 rating.
  • Name / Skill Role Exp, Yrs PM Lead QA BB QA A SQL Oracle MS SQL Java Hbrn Spring J2EE
    Ravi Krishnamurthy TL 8/6 6 7 8 6 8 9 5 0 6
    Srini Randhawa JD 8/6 6 3 5 5 0 0 3
    Lala Caitul QAL 5 8 8 10 6
    Rajiv Shah QA 3 6 4
  • Sharing the results with me vendor is a good idea, especially if the vendor is one of the winners of the race. Chances are that would be a humbling experience for the vendor.

When it comes to interviewing people for specific roles on the team during team ramp up or when replacing the team members speed-dating style is not going to produce the results you are looking for. You will need more close and personal interviewing style with substantially higher investment on both sides.
For each of the positions you will need a position description, very similar to the one you would use for captive resources, consider the following sections for the document:

  • Position challenges & rewards
  • Typical Duties and Responsibilities
  • Required Skills, Experience and Background
  • Desired Skills, Experience and Background
  • Desired Personal Qualities

The document should cater to several audiences: internal, vendor and potentially the candidate. The better is the document the higher the chances of finding the right match; share as much of the details with the vendor as you can possibly gather at the point of recruitment.

Next step involves securing and organizing Interview Squad – the team that will be involved in the process of resource selection. Make sure to clearly define roles and responsibilities of the team members, communicate job requirements, outline the process, and agree on techniques.

Prepare interview questions and tests. Your materials will save you from waste of time so often common for ad hoc interviewing and will keep your team focused and productive. The questions / tests should cover the following objectives:

  • Validate Skills
  • Discover Talents
  • Validate Experience
  • Asses Personality
  • Asses Abilities

During interview you will need to accomplish three basic tasks: gather information, provide information and radiate good will. It’s a common misconception that last two items apply only to full time / captive resources. In reality they are possibly even more important in offshore scenario as resources come from the same pool. If you fall short on radiating good will it is likely to backfire in later stage of the project, a mistake I made a few times and paid for dearly.

In every interview I typically highlight three components whether these are internal or external / offshore interviews:

  • Set the Stage

o Courtesy questions / break the ice
o Introduce the process / agenda
o Establish expectations
o Sale on the company
o Sale on the position

  • Perform

o Questions & Answers
o Tests
o Discussions

  • Clean Up / Closure

o Discussion / Q & A
o Sale reinforcement
o Next steps / expectations

Questions, test and interviewing techniques are similar to those you’d use in a regular interviewing process; I won’t go in details on those here. There are a few factors that you need to keep in mind while performing the interview / evaluating results related to the offshore nature of the resources:

  • Your candidates have two masters to please. That affects everything in the way they present themselves from speech patterns to content of the answers.
  • Time differences / lack of clarity / procedural hurdles will work against the candidate as well.
  • Remote nature of the interview work against both parties.

So the likelihood is the candidate won’t do their best and you need to account for it when evaluating results. You also should consider mitigating risk of incorrect assessment by some simple steps:

  • Go there and interview your candidates face to face; if that’s cost prohibitive consider solid conferencing tools, at least webcam on both sides.
  • Invest diligently in the interviewing process and ensure that your vendor buys into it.
  • Make sure that the vendor does good job in sourcing the candidates and communicating the job requirements as well as promoting the good will.
  • Make sure that vendor representatives are involved in the interview process and not only at administrative level. As you select team members get them involved in following interviewing activities.
  • After each interview run a quick retrospective concentrating on process and candidate quality improvement.

Of course this is just a superficial overview of the subject. Interviewing in general is a very complex task, requires lifetime learning, and is one of the most important factors in managing successful offshore engagements. The good part about it is we get a plenty of chances to learn it.

Offshore Interviews: Basics

There are plenty of books, articles and various materials on the Net pertaining to technical interviewing. There are several substantial differences that need to be accounted for when dealing with offshore resources. The first one is a mindset.

Many people who outsource large scope IT initiatives outsource interviewing as well. They see sourcing (finding, interviewing, negotiating, etc.) activities as responsibility of vendor. In addition many vendors not only prefer but insist on keeping that activity internal to the vendor.

Depending on the scope of outsourcing initiative and your own bandwidth you my elect outsource the sourcing completely or to some degree. In my opinion that is the area where you need to stay involved. Quality of the resources is one of the highest risks for offshore outsourcing, and one of the factors that affects total cost of outsourcing at a very high degree. You should only outsource it if you believe that the vendor can do a very good job in sourcing, and how can you get there? – only by interviewing their resources. So interviewing is unavoidable, at least during the vendor selection process.

More so when you move into the first stage of engagement and your vendor puts together a team, how can you control the process and ensure that the team has quality resources? Amid of engagement when inevitable turnover kicks in how can you control that the quality of the resources is not going down? The uninspected deteriorates. [Dwight David Eisenhower] Only by getting involved in the interviewing.

I believe in the following interviewing schema:

  • Vendor selection stage. Interview a fair sampling of resources that are “softly” committed to the engagement. The size of the sampling depends on the size of the engagement and your bandwidth. The goal of this interview process is not to pick members for the team, it is to form your opinion of the vendor capability to build a team.
  • Kick off / Team Building stage. Interview all/subset of the team for the engagement. The scope of the interview depends on the size of the team and your bandwidth. For small teams, say under 20 people, “all” is the goal. For mid sized and large teams the leaders of the team and other key members must be interviewed. A fair sampling of the rest of the team must be interviewed as well.
  • On-going engagement. Interview replacements for all key team members. Do a spot-check interview for new members.

And for now just a few tips on interviewing process:

  • During Vendor Selection stage I typically use speed-dating style interviewing with individual interviews limited to 30 minutes covering ~20 people a day. It is important to have at least two people involved in the interview process working together, one of the main reason for that is a continues feedback and support they can provide to each other to stay on the top of the process and increase quality of discovery.
  • Interviews during the Kick off / Team Building stage and ongoing engagement should be substantially more involved, especially for the key members. That typically means multiple people involved in the interview on your side, several dimension of interviewing, e.g. technical, personality fit, etc. The investment in the interview process has a very high return, however it still need to be weighed against the contract terms and the scope of engagement.
  • The investment in interviewing process should be proportional to the expected value of the resources, e.g. technical lead for the project vs. black box tester. The process of selecting key members of the team deserves as much vigor and attention as if you are selecting full time employees. On a typical s/w development engagement the key members of the team include project manager, tech lead, QA lead, business analysts, and some senior engineering contributors.

The process of a full scale interview is similar to one for fulltime employees. It is easier to some degree as many non-technical issues, e.g. salary, do not need to be covered. It has its own challenges though, for example obvious issues of remote interviewing. I will cover interviewing in a separate post.

Hiring blues

Finding good engineers is getting increasingly more complex. It’s clearly an employee’s market. Even in an employer’s market good engineers are tough to find, they all are gainfully employed. Today, finding a job for a good software engineer, is like shooting fish in a barrel, s/he can get multiple offers in a matter of days. And we, the hiring managers, are facing a race against all odds, and, as if competitive pressure was not enough, we have to deal with an incredible pollution of the candidate pool. For every decent candidate, we see dozens of people who are not remotely qualified, or worse than that, frauds or con artists:

  • A Java developer who did exceptionally well on several phone interviews, including deep dive technical discussions, relocates to IL and arrives in the office. Turns out he is not capable of doing any of the tasks he so eloquently explained over the phone. More so he cannot answer the same questions he did just a couple weeks ago… Amnesia? Don’t think so. Lesson learned – use a webcam for the interviews.
  • We hire a contract developer after several rounds of webcam interviews. He asks to do work from home in Seattle since relocation to MN is very difficult for him at the moment. After a few hiccups in onboarding he starts and right from the get-go begins missing one meeting after another. It goes on for a few weeks till one of the team members notices that when we talk with the contractor during morning hours we can hear a great deal of background street noise, and during day time calls the street noise subsides. A little bit of research discovers the reason behind the phenomena – the contractor is connecting from India. Lesson learned – bring them onsite.
  • Ok, we learned our lessons, we interview a great BA, she offers superb skills, personality, and experience. We fly her to Chicago for f2f, she does even better. We put out an offer, moving as fast as we can… We pull all the stops negotiating a great package. And finally, drumroll please, the candidate accepts the offer… from someone else. I guess we covered the tickets for her to interview with a few competitors as well. Lesson learned – you can’t win…

Of course, it’s not all gloom and doom, as a matter of fact we recently bought in some fantastic talent. I am just a bit grouchy after talking a with senior candidate who told me that “AWS is a not-a-sequel database” and a senior QA automation candidate who after “7 years of experience in white, gray and black box testing of web applications” cannot name a single http method.

Well, TGIF, I am sure the next week will be great and I’ll meet someone who can tell the difference between an abstract class and an interface or at least tell a green field from a cold steel rail…

How to Find Great Developers on Freelancing Sites Like oDesk, Elance or Guru

How-To-Find-Great-Developers-on-Freelancing-SitesFinding good developers has never been easier! Hundreds of thousands of first class developers are waiting to bid on your project.  Submit your idea to our marketplace and have dozens of qualified developers bidding on your project in just a few hours.   Some of the brightest minds from all over the world have come under one roof to offer their services for rates as low as $8 an hour!…    NOT!

While the above commercial sounds great, the old adage is still correct – if something sounds too good to be true it most likely is.  No world-class developer is going to work for $8 an hour.

Great Developers are Hard to Find

The good old days of $5 Ph.Ds. are long gone and never coming back. As a matter of fact someone once said, “What makes them good old days is a great imagination and a bad memory.”

Yes, the world is not yet completely flat and there is a significant difference in standards of living and that can greatly affect the rates offered by developers. Take a look for example at the comparison here. Today the difference between the average web developer in India and the USA is staggering. So it is conceivable that you can find some solid developers that are charging their average local market rates through market places like Elance or Freelancer (see, here for a comprehensive list of freelancing marketplaces).   It is also conceivable that in order to compete better that developer will reduce his or her rates. But let’s examine the chances… Continue reading

How to Find Someone to Build an App

How-to-Find-Someone-to-Build-an-AppA few days ago an old friend of mine called me with a question that I’ve been asked many times before. It typically goes something like this: “I have an idea for a great app, but I don’t know anything about programming. How can I find someone who can develop that app for me? And, I don’t have much money to spend on it”.

Jane (the friend of mine) is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience. She is great at her craft, but has zero knowledge about building software, outsourcing, and building apps. I wasn’t completely sure where to start when answering her, because there are actually a lot of questions behind the question here, and to answer all of them in detail would require me to practically write a book! In this post I will attempt to answer this very question without going into every detail so I can keep this at a blog post appropriate length.

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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.
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Wanted – Outsourcing Checklists

A few days ago I got my hands on a The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande.

Not knowing the author’s background I was expecting a book from some professional organizer, a guru of “getting things done”. Maybe one of those how-to self-improvement books that I typically pick up on my way to a transcontinental flight to deal with my inability to fall asleep while squeezed in a middle seat. The book was nothing of a kind and if anything it reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s masterpieces. To make text even more interesting a lot of the examples and ideas in the book came from the blood, sweat and tears of the author himself, not various people he interviewed. As I shortly realized even though Atul writes like a professional journalist the writing isn’t his day job, or at least not his only day job… In addition to being a best-selling author he is a MacArthur Fellow, a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health… Wow, how one can manage all that and also deal with three kids!?

Anyway, the main message of Checklist Manifesto is quite simple – in many activities the volume and complexity of knowledge required to perform them have exceeded any single individual’s ability to manage it consistently. The only way to deal with inevitable problems is to deploy tools that improve the outcomes and minimize errors without adding even more complexity to the task itself. That seems almost impossible unless we look at a simple, age old tool, that can help almost any professional – a common checklist. Of course, it’s not “just a checklist”, there is more to a good checklist than a set of nicely formatted boxes. The author illustrates it on multitude of examples with the most interesting being in the fields of aviation (where the work of creating checklist has reached the level of art and at the same time widely accepted as mainstream tool) and in his own domain – surgery and public health.

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Outsourcing Blogs sorted by Alexa US

See the list of outsourcing blogs I was able to find sorted by Alexa US rating. The ratings as of end of October, 2011.

Site PR Alexa Global Alexa US Brief Description
bnet.com 9 2,493 1,101 BNET.com is an online magazine dedicated to issues of business management. It provides
working professionals with the advice and insights they need to get ahead in
today’s workplace.
informationweek.com 7 4,120 1,430 InformationWeek’s Outsourcing blog section provides news, analysis on IT trends and information
for information technology professionals and business managers.
computerweekly.com 6 26,249 2,504 ComputerWeekly’s blog section provides the latest IT/IT Management,
Technology and Outsourcing news.
philwebservices.com 4 234,080 2,704 Philwebservices is a Philippine-based outsourcing company that provides
end-to-end IT services to its local and international clients. Their blog
section gives the latest advice and tips from the experts on outsourcing,
search engine optimization, online marketing and web designing and hosting.
networkworld.com 6 7,048 3,735 Provides
news about IT outsourcing.
blogs.cio.com 4 8,579 3,909 CIO provides technology and business leaders with insight and analysis on
information technology trends and a keen understanding of IT’s role in achieving business goals. They also
provide news, best practices and tips about outsourcing including discussion
on vendor management, contract negotiation and service level agreements
(SLAs).
neweconomist 6 157,033 7,616 Offshoring and Outsourcing section (bottom part of the page)
computing.co.uk/blog/the-outsourcing-debate-blog 6 85,133 9,618 This blog contains comments and opinions on the latest in outsourcing and offshoring from the author and director of the National
Outsourcing Association.
itbusinessedge.com 7 23,699 14,956 IT Business Edge bloggers give up-to-date current technology headlines and
insights.
globalservicesmedia.com 6 214,786 34,604 Global Services Media is a media platform for the global outsourcing industry.Their
IT Outsourcing section delivers news updates, strategies and best practices,
online features, interviews, case studies and analyst viewpoints regarding IT
Outsourcing.
theoutsourceblog.com 3 360,736 43,648 The Outsource Blog contains the general discussion, news & views about
Outsourcing and Offshoring. This group is for
exchanging ideas, debating issues and collaborating with other industry
professionals.
outsourceportfolio.com 3 175,116 53,544 Mani Malarvannan created this blog using some of the
good articles from Cybelink for everyone to learn
and share about outsourcing and globalization through blog posting.
integreon.com 4 598,192 87,041 Integreon’s blog section provides news and tips regarding outsourcing
and technology trends.
offshoringtimes.com 4 1,310,211 98,228 Offshoringtimes.com is a one stop portal for news related to IT Offshore outsourcing and BPO.
ssonetwork.com/blog.aspx 4 518,431 113,368 The Shared Services & Outsourcing Network (SSON)
blog section provides the latest posts, stories, experiences and commentaries
from industry experts and organizations and from outsourcing professionals.
infinit-o.com 4 730,683 141,720 Infinit-O was incorporated on September 15, 2005 to provide
opportunities for small and medium-sized companies to enjoy the benefits of
outsourcing. Its blog section provides the latest breaking news/views on
outsourcing and how it may effect
people around the world.
considerthesourceblog.com 4 3,186,029 254,858 This blog provides research-driven insight that cuts to the core of topical, relevant
issues surrounding the delivery of business support services – the
increasingly complex world of sourcing strategy.
3forward.com 3 1,603,618 286,712 3forward.com’s OUTSOURCING HEADLINES category under their blog section provides online
discussions, trends and updates for or outsourcing sales leaders, ITO sales, BPO sales, Analysts, Advisors and outsourcing
consultants.
outsourcing.com 5 680,626 342,814 The Outsourcing Institute is a neutral outsourcing resource dedicated to
providing outsourcing information, outsourcing research and outsourcing
networking opportunities.
itoutsourcinghq.com 1 1,916,138 363,453 IT Outsourcing’s blog section provides all the help for IT Outsourcing – news,
tips, benefits, risks and a lot more.
horsesforsources.com 4 1,248,399 429,616 HfS Research help enterprises make
complex decisions with their business process operations governance, IT
services, outsourcing and shared services strategies. Their blog section
provides insights, advices and benchmarking for the Global Business Services
Industry – BPO, HRO,
Outsourcing/IT Outsourcing to name a few.
blog.softheme.com 2 1,152,146 684,979 Softheme blog contains updated articles covering the topics of
programming, website development, project management, software development
and offshore outsourcing solutions.
fairwaytech.com 3 652,686 No
Regional Data
Fairway is a technology consulting and software development company. Its blog section
provides news, trends and tips about the best practices, advantages and risks
for choosing Onshore, Nearshore or Offshore
Technology Outsourcing (ITO) providers.
sourcingmag.com 4 846,941 No
Regional Data
Founded
in 2005, Sourcingmag.com provides practical advice for information technology
and process outsourcing.
russoft.org 5 1,129,797 No
Regional Data
RUSSOFT.org is a non-profit portal serving the interests of international companies
seeking business partners in Russia for outsourcing of software development
and providing the most accurate and up-to-date information about software
market.
outsourcing-weblog.com 4 1,503,015 No
Regional Data
This blog provides opinions, insights, news and resources regarding the best
practices for outsourcing.
chinasuccessstories.com 5 1,546,415 No
Regional Data
China Business Success Stories helps visitors get that extra leverage doing
business in or with China, by sharing experiences, tips and tricks on Chinese
Business Culture specifically on outsourcing.
outsourcingleadership.com 4 1,843,510 No
Regional Data
Outsourcing Leadership provides the latest news and trends on outsourcing, benchmarking
and shared services.
outsourcing-buzz-blog.com 4 2,190,478 No
Regional Data
Outsourcing Buzz Blog is a forum for bringing perspectives on trends and best practices
in outsourcing.
360vendormanagement.com 3 2,663,018 No
Regional Data
360 Vendor Management is primarily focused on buyers trying to get the most out
of their vendor relationships without taking an all-or-nothing approach and
its aim is to discuss the fundamental basics of vendor management and
outsourcing.
technologyoutsourcingblog.com 1 3,244,446 No
Regional Data
Information Technology Outsourcing blog provides the real world information about best
practices in the area of Information Technology Outsourcing and management of
technology.
blog.starbaseinc.com 3 5,302,071 No
Regional Data
This blog provides headlines, newsletters, IT events and blogs about application development,
IT Infrastructure Management, IT Optimization, IT Outsourcing and other IT
related businesses/services.
nearshoreoutsourcing 4 5,872,688 No
Regional Data
Nearshore blog is mainly focused on providing latest news and
trends about outsourcing spanning around Central & Eastern European
cluster. It also investigates global trends with the view to keep readers
up-to-date on developments in IT industry arround
the globe.
offshoreoutsource 1 6,958,999 No
Regional Data
Offshoreoutsource provides information about outsourcing, custom software
development, software outsourcing and a lot more.
gscouncil.org 4 8,786,090 No
Regional Data
GSC aims to inform and educate its members on all aspects of
sustainable outsourcing processes, issues and trends
knowledgeage.com 2 9,346,375 No
Regional Data
Knowledge Age is an organization of consultants, coaches, and trainers specialized in
the assessment, planning and implementation of IT project management related
solutions. They provide advices on IT Outsourcing, Insourcing,
Shared Services and Offshore Outsourcing, Outsourcing Management and Vendor
Management.
independentinfrastructure.com 0 9,347,186 No
Regional Data
Independent Infrastructure appears to be a new site, but their blog section offers
Independent ideas and thoughts regarding new generation IT infrastructure services
– Management Consulting, IT In-Sourcing/Outsourcing and Service Management.
palmerjohn.blogspot.com 2 22,434,355 No
Regional Data
Started as exceptionally insightful and interesting blog it unfortunately went
dormant.  John’s experience includes
selling, running and managing a variety of outsourcing deals ranging from the
very small (less than $10m) to the very large (approx. $5bn).
serviceoutsourcing2china.com 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
ServiceOutsourcing2China is a management consulting and business development firm specialized in
offshore outsourcing to China projects. They advise companies on outsourcing
strategy, market entry, and formation of trusted international partnership.
chinaoutsourcing.blogsome.com 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Dean tracks the happenings in the IT outsourcing business in China from an
industry insider’s perspective. Dean’s blog is a great source of info on
trends that are often not commonly covered in other blogs / sources.
insideoutsource 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Tom Hickman spent the last 15 years making, testing, selling, supporting and
using software and IT systems. His blog is all about the best practices,
observations and ideas about outsourcing, global teams and technology,
innovation, engineering leadership and global labor markets.
markhrobinson 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
This blog appears to be not up to date, but there are articles here that talks about outsourcing – advices, issues, thoughts
and tips.
offshore-outsourcing-it.blogspot.com N/A No
Data
No
Regional Data
This blog from Jason Aviet appears to be new, but could
be a great resource in understanding the elements of outsourcing/IT
Outsourcing.
remi-vespa.com 2 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Rémi Vespa created this blog to share his passion for the outsourcing industry, and its intricacy with the
global economy – mainly focusing on the challenges faced by small to mid-size
companies when outsourcing their Information Technology.
stevemezak.com 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Steve Mezak’s Blog contains insights and comments on Global Outsourcing, Software Development and Offshoring.

Outsourcing Blogs Sorted by Alexa

See the list of outsourcing blogs I was able to find sorted by Alexa rating.  The ratings are as of end of October, 2011. Feel free to comment and suggest new entries. I am planning to update the list in ~12 months from now.

Site PR Alexa Alexa US Brief Description
www.bnet.com 9 2,493 1,101 BNET.com is an online magazine dedicated to issues of business management. It provides
working professionals with the advice and insights they need to get ahead in
today’s workplace.
informationweek.com 7 4,120 1,430 InformationWeek’s Outsourcing blog section provides news, analysis on IT trends and information
for information technology professionals and business managers.
networkworld.com 6 7,048 3,735 Provides
news about IT outsourcing.
cio.com 4 8,579 3,909 CIO magazine provides technology and business leaders with insight and analysis on
information technology trends and a keen understanding of IT’s role in achieving business goals. They also
provide news, best practices and tips about outsourcing including discussion
on vendor management, contract negotiation and service level agreements
(SLAs).
itbusinessedge.com 7 23,699 14,956 IT Business Edge bloggers give up-to-date current technology headlines and
insights.
computerweekly.com 6 26,249 2,504 ComputerWeekly’s blog section provides the latest IT/IT Management,
Technology and Outsourcing news.
computing.co.uk 6 85,133 9,618 This blog contains comments and opinions on the latest in outsourcing and offshoring from the author and director of the National
Outsourcing Association.
neweconomist 6 157,033 7,616 Offshoring and Outsourcing section (bottom part of the page)
outsourceportfolio.com 3 175,116 53,544 Mani Malarvannan created this blog using some of the
good articles from Cybelink for everyone to learn
and share about outsourcing and globalization through blog posting.
globalservicesmedia.com 6 214,786 34,604 Global
Services Media (www.globalservicesmedia.com)
is a media platform for the global outsourcing industry.Their
IT Outsourcing section delivers news updates, strategies and best practices,
online features, interviews, case studies and analyst viewpoints regarding IT
Outsourcing.
philwebservices.com 4 234,080 2,704 Philwebservices is a Philippine-based outsourcing company that provides
end-to-end IT services to its local and international clients. Their blog
section gives the latest advice and tips from the experts on outsourcing,
search engine optimization, online marketing and web designing and hosting.
theoutsourceblog.com 3 360,736 43,648 The Outsource Blog contains the general discussion, news & views about
Outsourcing and Offshoring. This group is for
exchanging ideas, debating issues and collaborating with other industry
professionals.
ssonetwork.com 4 518,431 113,368 The Shared Services & Outsourcing Network (SSON)
blog section provides the latest posts, stories, experiences and commentaries
from industry experts and organizations and from outsourcing professionals.
integreon.com 4 598,192 87,041 Integreon’s blog section provides news and tips regarding outsourcing
and technology trends.
fairwaytech.com 3 652,686 No
Regional Data
Fairway is a technology consulting and software development company. Its blog section
provides news, trends and tips about the best practices, advantages and risks
for choosing Onshore, Nearshore or Offshore
Technology Outsourcing (ITO) providers.
outsourcing.com 5 680,626 342,814 The Outsourcing Institute is a neutral outsourcing resource dedicated to
providing outsourcing information, outsourcing research and outsourcing
networking opportunities.
infinit-o.com 4 730,683 141,720 Infinit-O was incorporated on September 15, 2005 to provide
opportunities for small and medium-sized companies to enjoy the benefits of
outsourcing. Its blog section provides the latest breaking news/views on
outsourcing and how it may effect
people around the world.
sourcingmag.com 4 846,941 No
Regional Data
Founded in 2005, Sourcingmag.com provides practical advice for information technology
and process outsourcing.
www.russoft.org 5 1,129,797 No
Regional Data
RUSSOFT.org is a non-profit portal serving the interests of international companies
seeking business partners in Russia for outsourcing of software development
and providing the most accurate and up-to-date information about software
market.
softheme.com 2 1,152,146 684,979 Softheme blog contains updated articles covering the topics of
programming, website development, project management, software development
and offshore outsourcing solutions.
horsesforsources.com 4 1,248,399 429,616 HfS Research help enterprises make
complex decisions with their business process operations governance, IT
services, outsourcing and shared services strategies. Their blog section
provides insights, advices and benchmarking for the Global Business Services
Industry – BPO, HRO,
Outsourcing/IT Outsourcing to name a few.
offshoringtimes.com 4 1,310,211 98,228 Offshoringtimes.com is a one stop portal for news related to IT Offshore outsourcing and BPO.
outsourcing-weblog.com 4 1,503,015 No
Regional Data
This blog provides opinions, insights, news and resources regarding the best
practices for outsourcing.
chinasuccessstories.com 5 1,546,415 No
Regional Data
China Business Success Stories helps visitors get that extra leverage doing
business in or with China, by sharing experiences, tips and tricks on Chinese
Business Culture specifically on outsourcing.
3forward.com 3 1,603,618 286,712 3forward.com’s OUTSOURCING HEADLINES category under their blog section provides online
discussions, trends and updates for or outsourcing sales leaders, ITO sales, BPO sales, Analysts, Advisors and outsourcing
consultants.
outsourcingleadership.com 4 1,843,510 No
Regional Data
Outsourcing Leadership provides the latest news and trends on outsourcing, benchmarking and
shared services.
itoutsourcinghq.com 1 1,916,138 363,453 IT Outsourcing’s blog section provides all the help for IT Outsourcing – news,
tips, benefits, risks and a lot more.
outsourcing-buzz-blog.com 4 2,190,478 No
Regional Data
Outsourcing Buzz Blog is a forum for bringing perspectives on trends and best practices
in outsourcing.
360vendormanagement.com 3 2,663,018 No
Regional Data
360 Vendor Management is primarily focused on buyers trying to get the most out of
their vendor relationships without taking an all-or-nothing approach and its
aim is to discuss the fundamental basics of vendor management and
outsourcing.
considerthesourceblog.com 4 3,186,029 254,858 This blog provides research-driven insight that cuts to the core of topical,
relevant issues surrounding the delivery of business support services – the
increasingly complex world of sourcing strategy.
technologyoutsourcingblog.com 1 3,244,446 No
Regional Data
Information Technology Outsourcing blog provides the real world information about best
practices in the area of Information Technology Outsourcing and management of
technology.
starbaseinc.com 3 5,302,071 No
Regional Data
This blog provides headlines, newsletters, IT events and blogs about application development,
IT Infrastructure Management, IT Optimization, IT Outsourcing and other IT
related businesses/services.
nearshoreoutsourcing 4 5,872,688 No
Regional Data
Nearshore blog is mainly focused on providing latest news and
trends about outsourcing spanning around Central & Eastern European
cluster. It also investigates global trends with the view to keep readers
up-to-date on developments in IT industry arround
the globe.
offshoreoutsource 1 6,958,999 No
Regional Data
Offshoreoutsource provides information about outsourcing, custom software
development, software outsourcing and a lot more.
gscouncil.org 4 8,786,090 No
Regional Data
GSC aims to inform and educate its members on all aspects of
sustainable outsourcing processes, issues and trends
knowledgeage.com 2 9,346,375 No
Regional Data
Knowledge Age is an organization of consultants, coaches, and trainers specialized in
the assessment, planning and implementation of IT project management related
solutions. They provide advices on IT Outsourcing, Insourcing,
Shared Services and Offshore Outsourcing, Outsourcing Management and Vendor
Management.
independentinfrastructure.com 0 9,347,186 No
Regional Data
Independent Infrastructure appears to be a new site, but their blog section offers
Independent ideas and thoughts regarding new generation IT infrastructure services
– Management Consulting, IT In-Sourcing/Outsourcing and Service Management.
palmerjohn 2 22,434,355 No
Regional Data
Started as exceptionally insightful and interesting blog it unfortunately went
dormant.  John’s experience includes
selling, running and managing a variety of outsourcing deals ranging from the
very small (less than $10m) to the very large (approx. $5bn).
serviceoutsourcing2china.com 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
ServiceOutsourcing2China is a management consulting and business development firm specialized in
offshore outsourcing to China projects. They advise companies on outsourcing
strategy, market entry, and formation of trusted international partnership.
chinaoutsourcing 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Dean tracks the happenings in the IT outsourcing business in China from anindustry insider’s perspective. Dean’s blog is a great source of
info on trends that are often

not commonly covered in other blogs / sources.

insideoutsource 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Tom Hickman spent the last 15 years making, testing, selling, supporting and
using software and IT systems. His blog is all about the best practices,
observations and ideas about outsourcing, global teams and technology,
innovation, engineering leadership and global labor markets.
markhrobinson 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
This blog appears to be not up to date, but there are articles here that talks about outsourcing – advices, issues, thoughts
and tips.
offshore-outsourcing-it N/A No
Data
No
Regional Data
This blog from Jason Aviet appears to be new, but could
be a great resource in understanding the elements of outsourcing/IT
Outsourcing.
remi-vespa.com 2 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Rémi Vespa created this blog to
share his passion for the outsourcing industry, and its intricacy with the
global economy – mainly focusing on the challenges faced by small to mid-size
companies when outsourcing their Information Technology.
stevemezak.com 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Steve Mezak’s Blog contains insights and comments on
Global Outsourcing, Software Development and Offshoring.

i need a team

I guess I have to start with a profound apology. It’s been incredibly busy few months for me. I left my job with PDR in May and has been consulting to several startups and looking for new opportunities since. At some point I found myself being a part-time CTO for three companies, while still working on my book, running regular home chores and trying to invest time in personal health/fitness at the same time… Needless to say my blog had to take a backseat to high priority tasks and activities. While I am still as busy as I’ve been for months things are stabilizing and once in a while I can now put a few hours to share my thoughts on new challenges and ideas related to IT outsourcing – something that many of us see on daily basis.

Today I’d like to touch upon a topic which is dear and close to many of us working for small companies. An ability to attract resources. And I am not talking about challenges akin to finding RoR developers to work in Palo Alto. That’s a generic problem that everyone in the Silicon Valley, even big guys like Groupon is facing today. Economy may not be showing it but the market for good developers is hot, habanero chili hot. What I’d like to do it to talk about finding decent offshore developers, and apparently market for them is hot as well…

Let me clarify my point – I am looking for decent developers – not “mediocrity in bulk” that large offshore providers would be happy to ship my way. Just a few weeks ago I was looking for a team of 5 Java developers for one of my startups. The team had to come with one senior-, 2 mid-, and 2 junior-level developers. No special, hard-to-find skills required, plain server side Java. I went to three of my long-time offshore connections just to learn that lead time to build such a team is 2 to 3 months! Well, these were very small boutique companies who offer reasonable rates and good contract terms.

So I had to amp up the intensity and go for 2nd / 3rd tier vendors. High price, more restrictive, but surely they can put the team I need in a couple weeks. Nope… Well, they told me they can, and after two rounds on interviews with proposed teams I realized that finding my Java team would be almost as difficult as with my smaller providers. Isn’t it amazing that tons of good people can’t find a decent job and at the same so many companies can’t find decent resources, and offshore takes it to the whole new perspective.

So what can we do? What is the path towards building your team in today’s hot market? Here are just a few ideas that I am testing as we speak –

  • Settle for less. Wow, you may say – that’s a loser’s talk! We only recruit the best of the best!… in this case good luck to you, and you will need it, and even more so you will need a lot of patience, as cream of the crop is hard to find. In meanwhile I will be looking for bright and not necessarily so experience guys. I will put more emphasis on personality match and not necessarily on tech skills as I am prepared to help them grow.
  • Be swift. Hold your horses, you might say. We put every developer, offshore or hire, through 10 rounds of interviews, before we bring them on board. Of course that’s great, and by the end of 10th interview you could be still wrong (happens to the best of us) and so many months behind… Carpe Diem… You snooze you lose. That’s particular true with offshore, and what makes this strategy very forgiving in offshore world that if the hire doesn’t work out it’s easy to let them go, no HR to deal with.
  • Trust your vendor. Well, Nick now it’s way too much, what a nonsense! Well, if you do not trust your vendor why are you still doing business with them? Of course trust mean to delegate not abdicate your responsibilities. It’s the team you putting for yourself, and nobody can help you better with your task, your vendor just need to be managed so they can help you in a meaningful way. Ask your vendor to help, trust them, and help your vendor to help you…

OK, it’s high time to run to the airport, back to San Francisco, I miss it so much.

10 Rules for your First Outsourcing Project

Last week I had a chance to connect with an old friend of mine – a serial entrepreneur, a pioneer of electronic commerce and outsourcing survivor. His first outsourcing initiative turned out a complete disaster and almost cost him the company. The human memory works in very peculiar way – we look back through pink spectacles – most of the negative events of the past do not seem nearly as painful as they felt at the moment. Yet John did not have any sentimental memories about his outsourcing attempt or anything good to say about the experience his team went through. He, as most successful business people, doesn’t blame someone for it, learned from it, and I am certain that if he ever goes through another outsourcing deal it won’t be anything close to the ordeal he went through. That’s if he ever tries outsourcing again…

So, what do you need to do to make sure that your first outsourcing project doesn’t become the last one?

1. Do your homework. You wouldn’t attempt to fly airplane without learning how to do it first? Outsourcing is a very sophisticated tool and using it without understanding is certain to backfire.

2. Start small. Was your first driving experience a trip around the country? Most likely not. Consider it when picking your first project.

3. Minimize risks. I do not mean to state blindly obvious. What I mean is that outsourcing is a risk by itself, so minimize every risk that you can. Learn about risks and cons of outsourcing and eliminate as much as you can. For example time difference introduces a high risk – so go with a nearshore vendor to eliminate it.

Continue reading

At Doorsteps of a New Engagement

I finally started working in my new role, VPE / CTO of PDR Network. It took almost a full year of non-stop activities on two complex M&A projects to get to this point. Medem and its assets moved on to two different organizations and I followed one of those assets. “Asset” in this case meaning product, resources, customers, etc. – basically a business unit. Fortunately, I was able to keep some of my top contributors even though far not everyone.

This economy put a huge strain on teams. I had to let go some people who I immensely respect and enjoy working with. Hopefully the new place will provide an opportunity for some of the guys I lost along the way to rejoin. Well, it remains to be seen; at this point I am facing couple disentanglement and technology merge projects that include working with new offshore partners.

dataquest-idc

PDR Network was formed by merging two assets acquired by a prominent equity firm: Physicians’ Desk Reference, acquired from Thomson Reuters, and the Health Care Notification Network, acquired from Medem. Medem had its offshore partners and Thomson Reuters many of their own. Naturally Medem partnered with small companies and TR with fairly large ones, even though to my surprise not tier 1.

At this point I do not know practically anything about my new outsourcing partners and the challenges they will bring. It feels like you are standing in front of doors to someone’s house and ringing the door bell. From behind the doors you hear a dog barking. What kind of dog is it? Playful Yorkshire terrier, English Bulldog dripping saliva, huge Newfoundland eager to lick you off your feet, vicious Presa Canario ready to rip you apart? It would be great to know before the door opens.

So let me guess what the new vendor will bring to my plate… At this point your guess is as good as mine, the only thing I know of the vendor that they made it to top 20 Indian IT list. Well, I know a little bit about the history and track record, but not much and only at high level / in general terms… So let me put my expectations in writing and see how the actuals pan out:

  • Turnover not less than 30%
  • Majority of the resources would not pass through interview by on-shore team
  • Poor track record of deliverables (late, over budget, low quality)
  • Low quality of code (no comments, inefficient code, etc.)
  • Low quality of the processes (incompliance with SDLC in many aspects)
  • Very inefficient / over-engineered architecture / designs
  • Waterfall SDLC with cushy estimates, slow start and high pressure in the end of each engagement

OK, that’s enough for now. I will keep you posted with what I find out discover over next few months.

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.

Continue reading

Notes from a Data Entry Gig

Large pool of cheap resources sometimes is enough of a motivation to outsource tasks. Sometime even those that you might not have done in the first place ;) It also is very tempting to engage manual labor rather than create, debug and use tools. Those reasons along with some business drivers were behind a data entry project I started a few weeks ago. While small and fairly simple the project offered a few interesting lessons to learn and a couple of interesting points to share.

  1. There are many places where you can find freelancers. Most of those places offer offshore labor. Even local resources such as craigslist will generate more response from offshore than from locals, even if you specify “locals only”. In my case I was specifically looking for offshore resources and the rock bottom rates. I knew that every site has its own community of freelancers, what was somewhat surprising is how substantial the difference in response would be. Response to my ad from 5 sites I tried in the first 3 days was 0, 2, 3, 6, and 78. The last figure was the response from oDesk community. It’s no surprise that the best candidates also came from oDesk. As a matter of fact I ended up to picking all providers from oDesk (I was looking for 5 people).
  2. The rates diversity was quite surprising as well. My project which was a basic internet research and data entry attracted freelancers from all over the world with majority of applicants from India, Pakistan and Philippines. There were a couple bids from USA (I frankly doubt that the work was planned to be performed by USA resources though). The lowest bid was $0.78 an hour (Bangladesh), the highest was $26 an hour (India).
  3. The quality of responses varied greatly from thoughtful and professional to “Need a job!”, the last one incidentally was one of the highest bids as well.
  4. Fit between the job and skill set was decent with a few exceptions even though I had somewhat of a difficult time categorizing my project – fitting it into one of the categories / subcategories provided by the sites.
  5. Each of the sites has its own idiosyncrasies and proprietary conventions; that makes search for freelancers across several sites rather cumbersome. In this case I did not have to work across the sites – the difference in response clearly made oDesk a better place to seek for my resources. That is not always the case though. In particular many type of projects such as web design, graphical arts, etc. would find equally strong support on many sites.
  6. For this project pruning candidates was not complex – I cut off everyone with rate above $5 an hour and those who did not appeared to put any efforts into their bid. That still gave me about 25 candidates, at that point ratings and hours worked helped me quickly pick top ten.
  7. I did not put a lot of efforts in the “Interviewing”; a quick email exchange quickly showed whether the person appeared professional and responsive enough. A few of candidates requested Skype conversations, that was a bit more time consuming and I am not sure whether for this kind of project the time is justified.
  8. I picked 7 suppliers (my target was 5). Can you guess why? Of course the quality of suppliers, especially when you scrape the bottom of the rate barrel is a hit or miss. One of them “did not show up for work” after the bid was accepted, one turned out so dense that I had to stop working with her after two days into the project.
  9. I now have only three suppliers left. All three are from Philippines and all are doing a decent job. The rates are 1.11, 2.78 and 3.33 an hour. The communications are sufficient. Productivity as expected or even better. I think so far I can call this project a success.

If you are facing a data entry, web scraping, email response, etc. project here are a couple tips I suggest for you to consider:

  1. Using freelancing sites saves time of sourcing candidates, simplifies management, and helps with payment aspects.
  2. Today the rate target could be $3 an hour plus / minus a buck.
  3. Have a very simple, concise and unambiguous project description. A step by step operating procedure should be developed. (remember the 3rd fundamental rule of outsourcing?)
  4. Do not invest too much effort in selection of the candidates; it’s easier and faster to start another project and get a bunch of new candidates than try to pick just the right ones. Using the project above as example – the candidates I thought were the best are no longer on my team, one of them was the no-show.
  5. Use the site communication methodology rather than your own email. That reduces the clutter in your own inbox and helps with categorization of email and follow up.

I guess that’s as much as this project deserves. I am kicking off  a SEO/SEM project shortly. It will be a bit different will see how it pans out and whether there is much to learn from it.

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10 Offshore Deal Showstoppers

I love English and it is slowly becoming my true second language. While English is still very much a work in progress for me I think I am doing better every day. Nowadays I can even challenge some native speakers with language questions that would get them quite puzzled. For example, is a “showstopper” a good thing? Almost anyone working in IT industry will tell you – No, that’s a very bad thing. Well, it is not exactly correct – take a look in a dictionary… Anyway, I am planning on covering a few showstoppers (in IT sense of the word) that I consider a deal breakers when it comes to hiring an offshore outsourcing vendor.

1. Acting like an idiot –fighting with me, bragging, being condescending, doubting my intelligence, etc. I have seen all too often vendors torpedo themselves by acting rather shallow. Here are just a couple of real life examples:

  • “Nick, we hear it all the time… What a dumb question!”
  • “Why use Skype? We’ll set you up with the software we developed in house – it is 100 times better.”
  • “Nick, you just don’t understand…”
  • “We have the best people in the entire city of Moscow and as a matter of fact in Russia altogether.”
  • “Nick, this is so simple, anyone would understand it. Let me take you through it step by step…”

2. Lying, in particular when the lies are obvious. I typically tell to my prospect offshore vendors upfront that’s I am not a neophyte in outsourcing, yet some of them almost immediately after introduction launch into telling me how their clients saved over 300% in IT costs, about virtually zero turnover ratio, building 100+ member teams in 2 weeks, etc. These claims go beyond lying and fall in category “treating me like an idiot”. There are many areas where I see offshoring vendors commonly bend the truth a bit too far, and that why I always interview prospect employees – all kind of things came to the surface.

3. Playing games. I am not a strong negotiator and do not sell or buy for living. That doesn’t mean that I fall for every trick in the book. More so, if I recognize that a vendor is playing games with me chances are I won’t continue the discussion even without asking them to play a flute first. That is particular common and less offensive when it comes to negotiations, yet still annoying and the chances are will throw a bucket of cold water on my desire to work with the vendor.

4. Bashing competitors. Very common practice that is likely to give a vendor a single benefit – never talking with me again. Here are just a few examples from my recent past:

  • a. From a talk with a Hungarian outsourcing firm: “Nick, are you really comfortable working with Russians? You know that all Russian outsourcing companies are owned by mob, don’t you?” Obviously these guys did not know that I spent first 30 years of my life in Russia…
  • A discussion with a founder of an offshore company in Odessa, Ukraine: “Nick, are you serious about considering China? That’s just silly. I’ve worked with Chinese for years and can tell you they all dumb and lazy…” In response I told the guy that my wife was Chinese; while it is not true, that was so worth it – watching the tap dance that followed.
  • From a discussion with VP of Sales for an outsourcing firm in China talking about another outsourcing firm in China: “I know them very well, and I have to tell you working with them will give you nothing but headaches – huge turnover, very low quality of resources, practically nobody with fluent English…”

5. Showing signs of dysfunctional company. Breakdown in communications, mixed messages, process breakdowns, “right hand doesn’t know what the left hand does”, not responding to my inquiries – these are just some of the common signs of a dysfunctional company. Those signs surfacing during presales / sales process or contract negotiation stage are sure deal killer in my book.

6. Displaying signs of bodyshop. Bodyshops or/and software sweatshops are not the organizations I would partner with for many reasons: low quality of deliverables, incompetent staff, high rate of conflicts – just to name a few. The trick is to recognize it early. Fortunately, signs of bodyshop are often right on the surface. The most common is condescending attitude of sales team towards resources to be involved in delivery. Another one, a bit less obvious, is a very quick turn around on sales materials with no visible impact on sales team (bunch of worker bees in back office slogged through the night to get the drones ready for presentation).

7. Unreasonable pricing. Typically excessive pricing comes decorated with statements such as “we are not the cheapest but we are the best” or “these are just list prices and we can negotiate from here”. That approach turns a large portion of contract negotiations in a slapstick comedy which I do not enjoy. Unreasonably low pricing has a turn offs of a different nature, ranging from “these guys are desperate” to “what’s the catch”.

8. Going over my head or behind my back. Not sure whether that one needs an explanation. Doing something like that is known to be a “corporate culture crime” in any industry / environment. And yet I see it surprisingly often. The funny part is that the email sent to my boss is likely to end up in my inbox with “FYI” or even “Nick, why are thy contacting me?”

9. Applying overly aggressive sales techniques. Having been in the industry for a while I have seen a lot of them ranging from twisting arms and applying pressure or guilt to outright pathetic begging. Once a CEO of midsized Indian outsourcing company literally cried in my office begging my to give his company just one chance, he showed me the pictures of his kids and wept talking about so many of his employees to go hungry – you might think it was a scene from Bollywood tearjerker.

10. Picking a wrong tone for the discussions. That’s a tricky one as everyone has their personal preferences and pet peeves. I think you can’t go wrong by just being consummate professional in all aspects of your communication. For example, I believe that you are better off being cold rather than getting too casual too quick – “Nick, buddy, take a foot of the breaks! When are you goona sign the doc I sent you?” But maybe that’s just me…

Many of the items are not necessary related to integral components or cultural fabric of specific vendor organization. Many of these items are mainly related to sales person who represent the company and you might ask why I would stop working with a vendor just because their sales person is not the sharpest cheese on a platter? Well, there are at least few reasons –

  • Most of the time what you see during sales process is enhanced version of what will appear during the delivery stage.
  • A company that hires and uses sales staff that could be defined by one of terms is probably not worth working with.
  • There are plenty of alternatives to spending time with people who annoy you.

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10 Annoying Things Freelancers Do to Destroy their Business

I have been working with freelancers through out my career and recently, thanks to services like oDesk, I find myself doing it more often. So you might think that I am happy with what I get, at least in general. Well, one of the reasons I continue to stay engaged is my high tolerance for pain – I am prepared to go through piles of hay to find that needle. And I have to tell you, looking for freelancers is very much like digging for gold – you literally have to go through tons of dirt to find it.

Interestingly enough many freelancers who have skills, knowledge and maybe even talent often torpedo themselves, aggressively sabotage their chances of getting customers right in the begging of the process. They make simple yet lethal mistakes that turn off clients before they got the chance to learn about freelancer’s ingenuity. Of course many mistakes could be made during execution of the project as well as its closure. I am not talking about technical or skill set issues though, my focus is on soft behavioral aspects of your communications with the client. Below are some of those mistakes:

  • Not reading my project description before replying to it. Your three page long template proposal will get in a recycle bin faster than you would think. At least adjust your opening statement, show me that you read the post…
  • Not using proper grammar and spelling. English is my second language and still a work in progress; I still struggle with grammar myself, yet many proposals I see push that envelope way too far. Grammatically poor introduction screams in my face “Communicating with this freelancer will be a real pain!” Spelling mistakes are even worse – how can I entrust my project to someone who doesn’t even make an effort to turn on a spellchecker?
  • Talking with me like I am a teenager. Your slang (especially when combined with ESL marvels) comes across as complete lack of intelligence and class. By the way, spellchecker is not likely to recognize your “gonna”, “wanna”, “gimme”, take a hint. Let me clarify this point – after you established rapport you may find that your client is using colloquial language and slang, following the suite in this case could be OK, still not when you put your words in writing.
  • Being excessively polite. Your culture and language might require twenty minutes of praise and compliments before you get to business but I am an American, cut to the chase guy. More so, being overly polite and using somewhat unusual forms will telegraph a wrong image, your mentioning my “ultimate wisdom” only makes me think of a snake oil salesman.
  • Not being punctual / prepared for your interview. I think of proposal / interview stage as a “honeymoon” in a relationship with a freelancer, it all goes downhill from there. Late for your Skype call? Having troubles finding your headset? Can’t introduce yourself? Chances are that’s the last time you’ll hear from me.
  • Bidding too high or too low. Even though I can understand motivation of people bidding high or low, I typically ignore the bids that stand out in that respect. It’s probably clear why high bid is a losing proposition: unless you got the market cornered the price does matter. Less obvious is a low bid. The main issue here is trust and the fact that we as buyers have been conditioned to expect a “catch” or “bait and switch” with a low bid. Maybe $2 an hour is a perfect wage for combination of what you sell and your standards of living, yet if everyone else bids $15 or higher you should stay in ballpark otherwise the chances are your bid will be ignored.
  • Not following though. Few things annoy me more than a freelancer responding to my post and then dropping off without note / returning my questions. Maybe you realized that I am not the right customer / the project is not in your sweet spot / whatever. It’s perfectly OK to bail out from bidding process, just don’t forget let you customer know. A simple “regrets” note can do a lot for you on a next opportunity that could be exactly what you are looking for.
  • Telling me that you know what I need better than I do. That for some reason is particular common for developers from Eastern Europe and particular from my motherland Russia. If you indeed know (which is highly unlikely) suggest, illustrate, propose – don’t push, don’t fight with me, I get enough fighting when I tell my clients that I know better.
  • Playing games with scope / rates / budget. For many of us on a buyer side many of these games are transparent, most us who’s been in the industry for over 5 years seen at all – “bait and switch”, “low ball”, “door in a face” – you name it. As a matter of fact we make purchases and are being sold on daily basis. We get occasionally burned, sometimes badly. In stock market, real estate, cars, utilities… And when we come to work last thing we want to see is someone trying same techniques…
  • Leaving debris behind. That is my personal pet peeve. Just a few days ago I was looking through code deliverables from a freelancer who just finished a small RoR project for me. Looking through the code I found plenty of loose ends such as hard coded ID addresses, uncommented debugging code, etc. That was the first project this particular freelancer got from me and it is the last one.

I can go on and on, ad infinitum ad nauseam, but I’ve reached my self imposed limit of 10 bullets. I might revisit it later though.

BTW, an initial version of this post posted as a guest blog at oDesk blog got some harsh critique for grammar and other language mistakes I made from Nancci Maloney, probably on of the oDesk freelancers:

Sir, I understand some of your frustrations, but –

If you are going to criticize someone, you need to be sure your own house is in order. You state your second pet peeve is not using correct grammer and spelling.

Look at your 1st bullet – it’s a recycle ‘bin’ – been is a verb. If you had ‘read’ through your post you would know ‘red’ is a color.

2nd bullet – your English is ‘a’ work in progress – sort of changes the meaning of the sentence. If you still ’straggle’ with concepts then you need to look up struggle in the dictionary.

Why would I entrust my paycheck to someone who can’t use spellcheck?

There are other lesser grammatical errors in your post but I think you get the idea. My mama always said people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. It’s pretty sound advice.

Not sure if you noticed there are two spelling errors in Nancci’s comment.

So let me apologize in case some of those niximorons are still in this post and suggest that you should “do what I say not what I do” :)

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Outsourcing Blogosphere

There are many blogs covering multiple aspects of IT offshore outsourcing, running distributed projects, etc. This page is designed to be a running list of blogs on related topics that I find informative, thought provoking, or otherwise worth paying attention to. The list is sorted by blog’s URL, you also can see the list sorted by Alexa and Alexa US ratings.

Have a suggestion? Please comment on the page I’ll do my best to look at it and assuming that I agree with your assessment will add it to the list, feel free also email me at krym2000-PO@yahoo.com as well.

Site PR Alexa Global Alexa US Brief Description
cio.com 4 8,579 3,909 CIO provides technology and business leaders with insight and analysis on
information technology trends and a keen understanding of IT’s role in achieving business goals. They also
provide news, best practices and tips about outsourcing including discussion
on vendor management, contract negotiation and service level agreements
(SLAs).
360vendormanagement.com 3 2,663,018 No
Regional Data
360 Vendor Management is primarily focused on buyers trying to get the most out
of their vendor relationships without taking an all-or-nothing approach and
its aim is to discuss the fundamental basics of vendor management and
outsourcing.
3forward.com 3 1,603,618 286,712 3forward.com’s OUTSOURCING HEADLINES category under their blog section provides online
discussions, trends and updates for or outsourcing sales leaders, ITO sales, BPO sales, Analysts, Advisors and outsourcing
consultants.
infinit-o.com 4 730,683 141,720 Infinit-O was incorporated on September 15, 2005 to provide
opportunities for small and medium-sized companies to enjoy the benefits of
outsourcing. Its blog section provides the latest breaking news/views on
outsourcing and how it may effect
people around the world.
philwebservices.com 4 234,080 2,704 Philwebservices is a Philippine-based outsourcing company that provides
end-to-end IT services to its local and international clients. Their blog
section gives the latest advice and tips from the experts on outsourcing,
search engine optimization, online marketing and web designing and hosting.
serviceoutsourcing2china.com 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
ServiceOutsourcing2China is a management consulting and business development firm specialized in
offshore outsourcing to China projects. They advise companies on outsourcing
strategy, market entry, and formation of trusted international partnership.
softheme.com 2 1,152,146 684,979 Softheme blog contains updated articles covering the topics of
programming, website development, project management, software development
and offshore outsourcing solutions.
starbaseinc.com 3 5,302,071 No
Regional Data
This
blog provides headlines, newsletters, IT events and blogs about application
development, IT Infrastructure Management, IT Optimization, IT Outsourcing
and other IT related businesses/services.
bnet.com 9 2,493 1,101 BNET.com is an online magazine dedicated to issues of business management. It provides
working professionals with the advice and insights they need to get ahead in
today’s workplace.
chinaoutsourcing 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Dean
tracks the happenings in the IT outsourcing business in China from an
industry insider’s perspective. Dean’s blog is a great source of info on
trends that are often not commonly covered in other blogs / sources.
chinasuccessstories.com 5 1,546,415 No
Regional Data
China Business Success Stories helps visitors get that extra leverage doing
business in or with China, by sharing experiences, tips and tricks on Chinese
Business Culture specifically on outsourcing.
computerweekly.com 6 26,249 2,504 ComputerWeekly’s blog section provides the latest IT/IT Management,
Technology and Outsourcing news.
computing.co.uk 6 85,133 9,618 This blog contains comments and opinions on the latest in outsourcing and offshoring from the author and director of the National
Outsourcing Association.
considerthesourceblog.com 4 3,186,029 254,858 This blog provides research-driven insight that cuts to the core of topical,
relevant issues surrounding the delivery of business support services – the
increasingly complex world of sourcing strategy.
fairwaytech.com 3 652,686 No
Regional Data
Fairway is a technology consulting and software development company. Its blog section
provides news, trends and tips about the best practices, advantages and risks
for choosing Onshore, Nearshore or Offshore
Technology Outsourcing (ITO) providers.
globalservicesmedia.com 6 214,786 34,604 Global Services Media is a media platform for the global outsourcing industry.Their
IT Outsourcing section delivers news updates, strategies and best practices,
online features, interviews, case studies and analyst viewpoints regarding IT
Outsourcing.
gscouncil.org 4 8,786,090 No
Regional Data
GSC aims to inform and educate its members on all aspects of
sustainable outsourcing processes, issues and trends.
horsesforsources.com 4 1,248,399 429,616 HfS Research help enterprises make
complex decisions with their business process operations governance, IT
services, outsourcing and shared services strategies. Their blog section
provides insights, advices and benchmarking for the Global Business Services
Industry – BPO, HRO,
Outsourcing/IT Outsourcing to name a few.
independentinfrastructure.com 0 9,347,186 No
Regional Data
Independent Infrastructure appears to be a new site, but their blog section offers
Independent ideas and thoughts regarding new generation IT infrastructure services
– Management Consulting, IT In-Sourcing/Outsourcing and Service Management.
informationweek.com 7 4,120 1,430 InformationWeek’s Outsourcing blog section provides news, analysis on IT trends and information
for information technology professionals and business managers.
insideoutsource 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Tom Hickman spent the last 15 years making, testing, selling, supporting and
using software and IT systems. His blog is all about the best practices,
observations and ideas about outsourcing, global teams and technology,
innovation, engineering leadership and global labor markets.
integreon.com 4 598,192 87,041 Integreon’s blog section provides news and tips regarding outsourcing
and technology trends.
itbusinessedge.com 7 23,699 14,956 IT Business Edge bloggers give up-to-date current technology headlines and
insights.
itoutsourcinghq.com 1 1,916,138 363,453 IT Outsourcing’s blog section provides all the help for IT Outsourcing – news,
tips, benefits, risks and a lot more.
knowledgeage.com 2 9,346,375 No
Regional Data
Knowledge Age is an organization of consultants, coaches, and trainers specialized in
the assessment, planning and implementation of IT project management related
solutions. They provide advices on IT Outsourcing, Insourcing,
Shared Services and Offshore Outsourcing, Outsourcing Management and Vendor
Management.
markhrobinson 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
This
blog appears to be not up to date, but there are articles here that talks about outsourcing – advices, issues, thoughts
and tips.
nearshoreoutsourcing 4 5,872,688 No
Regional Data
Nearshore blog is mainly focused on providing latest news and
trends about outsourcing spanning around Central & Eastern European
cluster. It also investigates global trends with the view to keep readers
up-to-date on developments in IT industry arround
the globe.
networkworld.com 6 7,048 3,735 Provides news about IT outsourcing.
neweconomist 6 157,033 7,616 Offshoring and Outsourcing section (bottom part of the page)
offshoreoutsource 1 6,958,999 No
Regional Data
Offshoreoutsource provides information about outsourcing, custom software
development, software outsourcing and a lot more.
offshore-outsourcing-it N/A No
Data
No
Regional Data
This blog from Jason Aviet appears to be new, but could
be a great resource in understanding the elements of outsourcing/IT
Outsourcing.
offshoringtimes.com 4 1,310,211 98,228 Offshoringtimes.com is a one stop portal for news related to IT Offshore outsourcing and BPO.
outsourceportfolio.com 3 175,116 53,544 Mani Malarvannan created this blog using some of the
good articles from Cybelink for everyone to learn
and share about outsourcing and globalization through blog posting.
outsourcing.com 5 680,626 342,814 The Outsourcing Institute is a neutral outsourcing resource dedicated to
providing outsourcing information, outsourcing research and outsourcing
networking opportunities.
outsourcing-buzz-blog.com 4 2,190,478 No
Regional Data
Outsourcing
Buzz Blog is a forum for bringing perspectives on trends and best practices
in outsourcing.
outsourcingleadership.com 4 1,843,510 No
Regional Data
Outsourcing Leadership provides the latest news and trends on outsourcing, benchmarking
and shared services.
outsourcing-weblog.com 4 1,503,015 No
Regional Data
This
blog provides opinions, insights, news and resources regarding the best
practices for outsourcing.
palmerjohn 2 22,434,355 No
Regional Data
Started as exceptionally insightful and interesting blog it unfortunately went
dormant.  John’s experience includes
selling, running and managing a variety of outsourcing deals ranging from the
very small (less than $10m) to the very large (approx. $5bn).
remi-vespa.com 2 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Rémi Vespa created this blog to share his passion for the outsourcing industry, and its intricacy with the
global economy – mainly focusing on the challenges faced by small to mid-size
companies when outsourcing their Information Technology.
russoft.org 5 1,129,797 No
Regional Data
RUSSOFT.org
is a non-profit portal serving the interests of international companies
seeking business partners in Russia for outsourcing of software development and
providing the most accurate and up-to-date information about software market.
sourcingmag.com 4 846,941 No
Regional Data
Founded in 2005, Sourcingmag.com provides practical advice for information technology
and process outsourcing.
ssonetwork.com 4 518,431 113,368 The
Shared Services & Outsourcing Network (SSON)
blog section provides the latest posts, stories, experiences and commentaries
from industry experts and organizations and from outsourcing professionals.
stevemezak.com 3 No
Data
No
Regional Data
Steve Mezak’s Blog contains insights and comments on
Global Outsourcing, Software Development and Offshoring.
technologyoutsourcingblog.com 1 3,244,446 No
Regional Data
Information Technology Outsourcing blog provides the real world information about best
practices in the area of Information Technology Outsourcing and management of
technology.
theoutsourceblog.com 3 360,736 43,648 The Outsource Blog contains the general discussion, news & views about
Outsourcing and Offshoring. This group is for
exchanging ideas, debating issues and collaborating with other industry
professionals.

Using Agile with Offshore

One topic that often comes up with relationship to outsourcing software development projects is the use of agile methodologies. Having run a number of projects using agile methodologies with offshore (nearshore) partners I found that some of the classic principles do not work as well, for example XP’s “pair programming” and “moving people around” need to be taken with a grain of salt / adjusted with consideration of the lack of collocation.

Of course when it comes to agile development you need to start with agile evangelists’ take on the subject. Martin Fowler in what is now a classic article Using an Agile Software Process with Offshore Development covers 14 major lessons learned:

1. Use Continuous Integration to Avoid Integration Headaches
2. Have Each Site Send Ambassadors to the Other Sites
3. Use Contact Visits to build trust
4. Don’t Underestimate the Culture Change
5. Use wikis to contain common information
6. Use Test Scripts to Help Understand the Requirements
7. Use Regular Builds to Get Feedback on Functionality
8. Use Regular Short Status Meetings
9. Use Short Iterations
10. Use an Iteration Planning Meeting that’s Tailored for Remote Sites
11. When Moving a Code Base, Bug Fixing Makes a Good Start
12. Separate teams by functionality not activity
13. Expect to need more documents.
14. Get multiple communication modes working early

That list presents a great set of guidelines, and none of them are in the conflict with foundational principals of agile development. Some of them are unfortunately in a conflict with realities you might be facing on your project.

Let me start with items # 2 & 3. That is an absolutely correct way to improve communications – make the offshore as onshore as possible by swapping people, putting semi-permanent representatives on both sides of the ocean, etc. The problem with it is that many companies, especially smaller ones can not afford this approach. Bringing and offshore person on-site roughly brings his/her rate to what you would pay a local resource and for any considerable length of assignment is likely to cost even more than local resource. Sending your local resource offshore increases the cost substantially. Personal life of ambassadors is likely to be affected not necessarily in a positive way. To minimize the impact you might consider younger ambassadors however a lack of experience may defeat the purpose. Once again, I can not agree more with both techniques yet the chances are you would have to compromise on those and thus creating inevitable negative impact on the project.

# 4. To some degree this section plays down an obstacle that could be an agile showstopper. Martin Fowler presents a few interesting examples of cultural challenges that his team successfully overcame. You might have not as much success with it, especially when working with a third party provider rather than captive resources. Try “anti-authority attitude” with any top tier vendors in India, see how far you get – and do please let me know. Also, there is much to be said about forcing foreign culture onto people who will have to stay in the society that doesn’t support it.

There are of course many others cultural challenges that deserve a serious discussion; let me just touch on one: some people call it “having Agile in DNA”; some call it “agile aptitude”. That would be a topic for a very long discussion; for now I will cut it very short: some teams are just not made for agile; and that is a cross-cultural phenomena. The culture puts its additional imprint on the issue with deeply embedded cultural traits such as conflict avoidance, hierarchical structure, meaning of respect, etc. you often find offshore. Unless you have the luxury of building your own team you would need to asses the team’s ability to go agile and your ability to guide it thorough. In some cases you will find that being practically impossible. If ignored or not handled properly subtle sabotage will find its way to the surface through malicious compliance and will bring your project to a memorable fiasco.

# 9: Short iterations have a great positive impact on the project and alas high overhead as well which exacerbated by offshore communication challenges, time difference, logistics, etc. could be unbearable. In my experience two week iterations presented a reasonable minimum.

#12 & 13 get us into a line of fire of the holly war between agile and waterfall :) And in my opinion that is as productive discussion as the “mind over matter” (by the way the later one has been solved: “if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter”). This is not an argument anyone could ever win, there is a place for agile there is a place for waterfall, and everything in between. Pick the best tool for the job, adjust your methodology to accommodate for organizational requirements, environment and team at hand… of course “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail” [A. Maslow]

I think it’s enough of picking on the celebrity, time for a couple observations of my own:

Minimize the time gap. You can find many blogs and articles that talk about the time difference as an advantage, what a joke! 11.5 hrs time difference with India can easily result in 48 (business!) hours delay in resolution of urgent issues. If agile is your chosen path consider minimizing that gap; your best bet could be a nearshore offering, or farshore partners who understand the value of team overlap. Some of my favorite vendors take this issue on with a vengeance starting work hours for their employees at noon local time; interestingly enough that gives them some add on benefits such as less challenging commute.

Pick only engineers with fluent English. That one seems like a no-brainer yet you will find a lot of push against it if you deal with pretty much any geography outside India. The meaning of “all our engineers read and write technical documentation in English” translates from Vendorian (the language vendors speak) as “some of our engineers went through English boot camp when in college). While that could be a manageable obstacle for teams operating as a black box or in a well managed waterfall that will be a showstopper for a mixed team agile project.

Select developers with approximately the same skill level with exception of very few on a high and a low end; the ranking for those exceptions must be clearly understood and communicated across the team. That one cuts deep in the heart of some agile practices and beliefs so I have to put a couple thoughts here:

In software development all engineers are equal and some are more equal… The difference in productivity and quality of code for strong developer and average one could be tenfold, expecting them to work together is like expecting turbocharged Porsche and limping horse powered carriage travel together in an autobahn. If you build your team with the best and the brightest chances are they could be equal even if their experience is at different level: a bright engineer will have no problems stepping aside in a face of reason or experience. When freedom of expression is given to an average or a mediocre contributor on team that also has high quality developers the result is predictable – it’s either beat him into pulp or produce code at average or mediocre level.

There are many other negative trends that naturally develop in teams with wild mix of skill levels – cherry picking, slavery, slacking off – just to name a few. By no means I am advocating for arbitrary hierarchy though… In my experience the best agile teams are formed by like-mind professionals of approximately same level of skills gathered around a top notch technical leader.

Adding offshore spin on the requirement to keep developers at approximately the same skill level adds a huge challenge to the team building process, especially in hierarchical societies or/and organizations.

Build a team. Easier said than done, and that’s why it is my favorite craft. Building teams with offshore components elevates the complexity of the task to a completely new level. When it comes to agile development building a team from a group of people working on the same project makes all the difference; the difference so profound that it feels like magic. The good news is that you do not need to graduate from Hogwarts to be successful at building balanced teams that perform well on agile projects. OK, this topic requires much more than just a couple paragraphs or a few posts, maybe a very active stand-alone blog can give the topic the justice it deserves… For now let me just mention my formula for success :)

nsf

Establish solid project management. A dedicated PM is an absolutely critical role on an agile project of a decent size. This role becomes twice as important when the team is not collocated and another tenfold if the team spans countries. Strong s/w PMs are a very scarce commodity though. It takes solid technical knowledge, superb PM skills and personality match, considering limited pay rate and unlimited challenges – it’s no surprise they are so difficult to find. By the way, when it comes to agile projects I would take certified PMP and get him/her to learn SCRUM (or whatever the methodology is) over SCRUM master in 4 out of 5 cases. Not sure whether I am jaded or just biased. Having interviewed hundreds PM through my career that so far has been my experience.

Continuously improve the process. There are many techniques that will help you to do so, iteration retrospectives is one of the easiest ones. My teams use round table discussion approach with everyone presenting keeps and tries that are captured and tracked by the PM. Tracking is essential as even great ideas tend to get lost unless there is a driving force behind it.

And the last one for now: do not compromise on tools. Agile teams have all too common gravitation towards open source. That’s commendable yet needs to be taken with caution. More so, when it comes to development tools open source doesn’t always mean the best or even “good enough”. Some tools supported by gainfully employed professionals offer impressive value and are substantially more reliable than those supported by the community. For example my team after numerous attempts to work around some limitations of CruiseControl settled on Bamboo with notable impact on productivity. Same goes for many other tools (CI, Testing, Code Review, Wiki, etc.), so do not compromise on them, pick the best you can afford.

Well, with all those caveats and warnings you might think that agile and offshore do not mix. I would not say so, while running agile projects with distributed teams is not a trivial exercise it could be productive, efficient and a lot of fun. Given the right opportunity I would do it a heartbeat.