Recruiting: Getting Organized

An old post that I wrote for me CSM blog. It applies equally well to onshore and offshore hiring.

Common Sense Management

One of my friends has a pretty amazing quality – he manages to pack unbelievable amount of activities in his life. He spends every weekend, holiday, vacation day in actions and activities with his friends and family. The main difference between him and many of us that his activities are typically complex and require a lot of preparation, for example a scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Riff, hiking in Peru, or racing in Sea of Cortez.

Anyone who has ever been on one of those trips knows that the key to having fun and enjoying these trips is careful planning. Even a day trip on a familiar trail can be easily ruined by lack of preparation. Planning takes time, as a matter of fact a lot. For some of outdoors enthusiasts planning trips becomes a full time job. But how many of us can afford to spend so…

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5 C’s of offshore success

I just got off the phone with David, an old friend of mine and a VP of engineering for a stealth startup in Boston. His team is doing very well, and who knows, we all may hear about him and his company pretty soon. Needless to say, after half an hour discussion of his great idea and the business model we dove into technical aspects. My friend’s technology stack selection is of no surprise – RoR, MySQL and DynamoDB running on AWS. His SDLC is also far from innovative – SCRUM. What I found rather unusual for this stage of the game was a heavy utilization of offshore that he described as one of strategic decisions he made early on. Over 80% of his engineering workforce is based in Argentina, and given the fact that he’s never been outside of this country, it was somewhat a surprise. David rates his experience of using offshore as “one of the smartest moves I’ve done”. We let the time be the judge of that, but in meanwhile a few observations –

David’s motivation for using offshore was very common – bootstrapping the company with current local salaries is close to impossible, finding local talent is not easy and far too time-consuming, especially, getting agile web development skills. So offshore seemed like a sensible path to take. Near-shore preference came from his “control freak” nature. “I just want to see them on the Skype, want to be able to check, ask, re-focus in real time. Time zone differences is not for me.” Having gone through a lot of “bad” and very little “good” experience with offshore he used a small advisory firm to find partner and manage the offshore relationship. But that was not the key to success. “What makes us successful in using offshore are the 5 Cs –

  • Clarity – know exactly what the goal / objective is, what result/outcome you expect – in a great level of details.
  • Conviction – be absolutely sure that you can achieve your goal / objective – research, analyze, what-if to death, and then cut off alternatives and move forward.
  • Commitment – be prepared to put the effort required to achieve your goal / objective; the problems will happen, don’t let them deter you from the path you’ve chosen.
  • Consistency – execute with persistence, keep your eyes on the ball; do not drop best practices, even though they seem at times to be nothing but unnecessary overhead.
  • Collaboration – make sure that every aspect of your activities has been properly communicated to every member of your team, discussed and accepted by them.

I asked David whether it’s possible that he just got lucky with his partner, but he did not support that idea – luck has no place here since it begins with L :D

Offshore Fears and Disaster Recovery Planning

fearThe most common emotion associated with introduction of outsourcing in organization, running offshore engagements, and even terminating relationship with an outsourcing vendor is fear. At least that is what I’ve observed over the years. Fear comes in many shapes and forms – anxiety, worry, distress, alarm, panic, paranoia and so on. We worry about so many things – deadlines, turnover, communication failures, key contributors… the list goes on and on.

We worry about many things, and most of them never happen. As a matter of fact, experience shows that 99% of things that we worry about to do not happen, and when things do happen events come at us so fast that we have no time to worry.  Yet we continue to live in paranoia thoroughly convinced that outsourcing world is out to get us. Continue reading

Offshore Manager Daily Routine

Last night I met with Chris, an old friend of mine who manages relationships with a large group of software developers and QA engineers located in Campinas, Brazil. He’s been working with this team for over a year after being brought in for a short term contract – an offshore “rescue” operation. The relationship between his client and offshore provider was going nowhere quick. Milestones missed, quality of deliverables deteriorating, blame shifting and finger pointing proliferated. The relationship was clearly falling apart and management frustration reached a point where they no longer were prepared to deal with the vendor.

Apparently the history of the offshore relationship for Chris’s client was rather consistent – find a new vendor, go through 3-6 honeymoon period, then things start braking here and there, the company attempts to improve situation by assigning one of the employees, s/he attempts to salvage the situation, but after a some period of temporary improvements things go from bad to worse and the search for a replacement vendor is initiated… and the cycle repeats. By the time Chris came on board his client was on fourth vendor, this time a small company from Brazil.

The problem was “100% with the vendor” – “lack of understanding of the company’s objectives, poor English and overall communication skills, high turnover, mañana attitude, etc., etc.” – at least that what was what the client told Chris.

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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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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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Saving Face

A couple days ago I was working on incorporating feedback from a second round of technical reviews into my (hopefully soon to come!) book on outsourcing. The topic that was keeping me awake was related to one of the most important dimensions of managing distributed teams – communication. Let me cover one of the aspects of this topic here since I am not planning on including it in the book. This aspect is in particular important for companies with little experience in cross-cultural communications and casual work environment.

It seems that it was not so long time ago even though more than a decade has passed from a great offsite meeting my company arranged for our large implementation team in Napa Valley. The meeting was a huge success with a bunch of engaging discussions, productive breakout sessions, and provoking brainstorming exercises. Needless to say the location promoted a fun celebratory activities as well. By 9 PM the soberest members of the team were rather tipsy, the rest of us were feeling no pain. That’s when one of my brightest tech leads run to me asking for help. Sanjiv was rather disturbed, confused and irritated. “Nick, Jennifer [[one of our company execs]] just offered me a blow job! I don’t know what to say, what to do… She is obviously an executive but I am married!” Having lived most of his life in India Sanjiv was quite accustomed to large parties, but not to the likes of that one. Nor did he know the name of a popular then cocktail which Jennifer so “innocently” offered to him. It took a little of explanation and forced laughter to get Sanjiv back to normal but I am afraid the damage was done – while there was no sexual harassment in sight, there was obviously a case of making someone look stupid in front of his friends and co-workers.

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