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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Not Giving Up Is Overrated and Why You Should Fire Your Provider Now

I do not know how many times I’ve heard some form of a “never give up” cliché.  Google returns 185M results for “reasons to never give up”, every motivational speaker has a supporting story in their arsenal, and chances are you heard it at least 10,000 times as well.

Yes, we all have seen a plenty of examples where tenacity and perseverance paid off.  We know that in some cases a call to never give up may help us to get up and go on after we get knocked down.  And yet, in far too many cases “don’t ever give up” is nothing much but a banal saw or even worse – a dubious guidance that leads us in a wrong direction.  “Never give up” mantra can become the shackles fettering us to failures, doomed concepts, or wrong partnerships.  It may keep us stuck, limit creativity, and reinforce mistakes.

Determining a course of actions based on slogans, role model’s mottos, or old proverbs is not going to get us far.  We need to make a decisive action when the need is indicated, and this action could be to throw in the towel.  That in particular applies to terminating a less than successful offshore partnership.

I don’t suggest that we should stop trying at a first sign of difficulty or fire our providers as soon as we some problem brewing.  Nobody is perfect, it’s only fair to give your provider a second chance, and the cost of switching providers could be significant.   What I am 100% clear on is that in many cases sticking to outdated decisions, keeping existing partnership, or trying to fix something hopelessly broken is not the best strategy.

More so, if you decide under the circumstances that the best step forward is to fire your freelancer, offshore vendor, or service provider you want to “give up” on them as soon as possible.  In 99 cases out 100 the only regret you will have later is not doing it earlier.

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Another Offshore Manager Daily Routine

daily routineA good friend of mine, Alexey, is an “offshore manager” for a mid-sized technology company with offshore offices in Ukraine. After reading my last post he decided to sent me his daily routine. I put “offshore manager” here in quotes since it’s my friend’s role, not the title. Anyway, in his case ODC is wholly owned by his company, and he has a full time job of overseeing development and QA activities performed by the offshore team.

Interestingly enough, Alexey is not an engineer, but for all intents and purposes is a project manager, very good one. His team in Ukraine is over 60 people and is responsible for product that generates at least 50% of his company revenue. Alexey’s offshore team is doing exceptionally well and is considered one of the key ingredients of the company’s success.

I think in a large degree offshore team success is due to Alexey’s work, leadership and unyielding dedication to quality. And now without further ado let me present slightly edited Alexey’s daily routine –

  • 15 min Categorize (not read) emails received
  • 90 min Participate in up to 3 daily SCRUMs (high risk projects)
  • 30 min After SCRUMs I usually have 1 or 2 one-on-one meetings with my team members scheduled at this time. My goal is to follow up with each tech / QA lead at least once a week, with every other member of the team – every other month. Most often via Skype. Meetings are scheduled in advance as recurring appointments.

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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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The Bottomless Pit of SEO

bottomless-money-pit-seo-If you are a novice blogger, an affiliate, or plan to make a killing by placing Google ads on your site you may believe that SEO will bring you tons of money. It may, but unless you watch every step and invest a great deal of efforts in building the traffic, it won’t.

A couple months ago I started a mid-sized SEO project. I guess by now, after going through a few dozens of SEO engagements I should not be too worried, yet I was. The SEO world has changed a great deal since my last project. Also this time I needed to start from scratch – new site, new for me, very competitive market, and as usual very small budget, both in terms of money and my availability. So, eLance / oDesk here we come.

As it’s typical for SEO engagements I started getting responses to my project almost instantly after I submitted it. 20 or so proposals came in the first hour, about same in next 24 hours, and about a dozen afterwards. Most of the proposals came from India with cost ranging between $5 and $15 an hour. Pretty much all proposals I got were boilerplate documents some of which were slightly modified to acknowledge my name and the project. For follow up I picked about 10 companies with near perfect rating and high number of hours billed in the last year.

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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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What to do when your client doesn’t pay

Many of the posts in my blog are written from clients’ / buyers’ standpoint, this one is different – I am switching sides to take a look at one of the most painful issues of working with small business clients (and sometimes large clients as well) – not being paid for your services. A few weeks ago I talked with an old friend of mine who is an owner of small software development firm based in Russia. He told me that his business would’ve been extremely profitable and vastly successful if he was always paid for his services. I was shocked to hear that typically he gets paid for not more than 70% of the services he delivers. Alex’s company sells to a variety of clients in Western Europe, United States, and locally in Russia. He told me that his local clients are the worst with government clients refusing to pay being a most common scenario.

Well, there is nothing I can offer in terms of advice in dealing with Russian government clients. But they are not the only ones, many “legitimate” businesses in Europe and the States follow the suit and are late or delinquent with payments to their vendors. One of the cases described by Alex involved a fairly large South Carolina based company, that used all kind of excuses to explain increase in past due balances, and then when unpaid amount was about to kill the vendor, the company switched the tune – accusing the vendor in all kind of issues ranging from late deliveries to stealing IP. This situation, a reputable US company playing dirty tricks, was somewhat new for Alex. It caught him off-guard and almost put him out of business.

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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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“Outsource it!” is now in beta

A couple days ago my first full size book went into beta and is now available at the publisher website – http://pragprog.com/book/nkout/outsource-it. I feel very happy and relieved that the book is finally out, writing it was far more challenging than I’ve ever anticipated. At the same time I feel happy and proud, proud to be one of the authors of the pragmatic bookshelf, the group of technology writers that earned respect across very broad and demanding technical audience.

It will take a little while before the book hits the shelves of Amazon and other bookstores, but you don’t have to wait and get your e-copy of it today. While the book is in beta your comments and suggestions would be taken quite seriously and could result in changes and additions to the content, hopefully making the book even better. I am not sure how long the beta would take but hopefully much less than it took me to get here –

Roughly two and a half years ago I came up what seemed a great idea at the time – compile my blog material into an easy to read eBook. In a couple months I produced the first volume that was dedicated to making decisions on whether and how to outsource. In a short order I received substantial feedback that made it apparent that just recompiling the blog and doing surface level clean up won’t add too much value, and probably was not worth the effort. Continue reading

Outsourcing Associations

Finding outsourcing vendors is not a trivial task sometimes because it’s just too many to chose from, sometimes because you just cannot find any that fit a particular criteria.  Over the years I found that generating a list of prospective vendors can often be done with a help of organization that unite offshore vendors in some manner.  As it turned out it’s not easy to find these organizations is not to easy as well, so I started a list that should be of help. So far the list is not to big and I was only able to find 20 some organizations, I hope that with your help the list will grow fast.

The list below includes top 5 associations based on Alexa Global rating.  Click here for the full list sorted by Name, here for the list sorted by Alexa Global, and here for the list sorted by Alexa US.   If you know of a site, directory or service with is worth including please comment on the page and I include in the list, feel free also email me at krym2000-po @ yahoo . com as well.

Name PR Alexa Global Alexa US Description
The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP)
5 313,474 168,529 The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) is the global, standard-setting organization and advocate for the outsourcing profession. They claim to be the leading professional association for organizations and individuals involved in changing the world of business through outsourcing, offshoring, and shared services with a global community of more than 110,000 members and affiliates worldwide.
The Outsourcing Institute (IO)
5 423,525 246,289 Founded in 1993, the Outsourcing Institute (OI) claims to be the world’s biggest and most trafficked neutral professional association dedicated exclusively to outsourcing with a network of more than 70,000 professionals worldwide including qualified outsourcing buyers. Their specialties include: outsourcing, sourcing, thought leadership, state of the industry, marketing, promotions, RFP, vendor selection, relationship management and governance.
National Outsourcing Association (NOA)
5 893,216 27,276 Founded in 1987, the National Outsourcing Association (NOA) is the UK’s only nonprofit outsourcing trade association and claims to be the centre of excellence in outsourcing. Their services are focused on delivering education, excellence and collaboration and they are involved in all areas of outsourcing, including ITO, BPO and KPO.
Russian Software Developers Association (RUSSOFT)
5 902,435 55,451 Established in 1999, RUSSOFT Association is a nationwide association of the technically competent software developing companies from Russia and Belarus. It aims to represent Russian software development companies on the global market, to develop marketing and PR activities of its members, and to promote their interests in their countries’ governments.
Sourcing Interests Group (SIG)
4 1,010,363 271,503 Sourcing Interests Group (SIG) is a membership-driven organization comprised of sourcing and outsourcing professionals. They claim be acknowledged by many as a world leader in providing an ongoing forum and services to assist companies in strategy development, the improvement of goods and services sourcing, and the implementation and management of corporate services through outsourcing, offshoring, insourcing and shared services.

Outsourcing Governance

A couple days ago I received an email with a very interesting question –

Hello Nick,

I have come across your blog (http://pragmaticoutsourcing.com) while doing some secondary research.

I have been quite impressed after reading your blog, and hence writing to you to seek your pro bono help :)

As you have such a good depth and breadth of outsourcing experience, I would like to seek your opinion on this:

– Many Companies who Offshore their IT/Product Development to Russia, India, China, etc. face many challenges during the projects execution phase. They spend significant management overhead in managing their vendors. They may need to make multiple trips to the outsourced location to resolve issues. So there are significant costs/pains involved
– Would such Companies like to hire third-party consultants, who work as their agents and be physically present with the suppliers, does the Program Management function (tracking of projects, timelines of deliveres, identifying and sharing potential issues/challenges, metrics reporting etc.) and help reduce the costs/pains of managing the outsourcing vendor?
– Would such Third-Party Consulting services be attractive to Companies who Offshore?
– If No, Why?
– If Yes, Why? Do you know of any company providing such Consulting Service?

Your opinion would be highly valuable to me. I am eagerly waiting to hear from you.

Thanks,
Sujay

Yes, Sujay many companies can take advantage of these kind of services and providing them could present a very interesting and lucrative opportunity. As a matter of fact many companies are already in this business and offer large portfolio of services related to managing the full cycle of outsourcing (not necessarily only offshore) engagements.

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Trip to blogosphere

Outsourcing is a very broad topic with plenty of controversial topics, inevitably there plenty of people who have something to say about it. Chances are if you are interested in this subject you run across articles and posts by Outsourcing Institute or Horses for Sources. A couple years ago I put a few references in my blogroll and started a blogosphere directory. Thanks to the law of reciprocity that generated a few back-links and traffic to my blog. Over time the blogroll become stale pointing the blogs that become dormant or completely disappeared. I did not notice it till just recently, as I was doing some cleanup of the blog.

Similar to my freelancing directory the blog roll needed to be refreshed. In addition to cleaning it up I decided to create an outsourcing blog “directory” as well. And with no hesitation I went on blog hunting with a help of my fearless VA Yesha, looking for blogs that cover outsourcing. Very soon we had a list with more than 100 entries, unfortunately, many of them covered topics that I am not too familiar with and/or not too interested in such as Law Process Outsourcing or blogs solely focused on BPO. So we went back pruning the list getting it to less than 50 entries. Some of the blogs that got the ax were fairly active in outsourcing blogosphere, and I may include rejected entries in the list later on after I get a chance to check a few posts and see whether they are worth considering. Of course what’s one man trash is another man’s treasure, so “worth considering” is a very subjective term. Plus in any blog the posts are typically hit-or-miss, and even loosely related sources can put some interesting article once in a while. Well, I cannot create full directory, even with help of a couple dozen of Vas, that’s why we have omnipotent Google.

Anyway, please see the list sorted by URL of the blog on this page. To make the list a bit more helpful I added PR and Alexa ratings in the same manner as in my freelancing marketplace directory and created two additional versions of the list, one sorted Alexa Global and another by Alexa US. As usual, feel free to comment and suggest new entries. I am planning to update the list in ~12 months from now.

5 Rules of Luck with your Potluck

The month of October is almost over and I have not written a single post. Well, I do need a day job and it’s been incredibly demanding over past few months. A number of projects that kept roughly 50 people working over a half a year are in the finishing stage. Multiple systems that have been developed over that period have to integrate and start talking to each other in production in just a few days.  No surprise it keeps me away from blogging, yet I’ve committed to at least one post a month and there is no way around it. By the way, talking about distributed projects, why are they so… insane?

Have you ever tried to setup a potluck with say 10-15 families? Everyone needs to come in at approximately the same time, bring the food they committed to making, warm it up, set up table, and party on. Pretty simple task isn’t it? So let’s throw in some complications, typical in IT world. The families have to fly in from  different parts of the world. Some of the families never met each other. Some of them do not like each other. Some speak different languages. You have disagreements on menu, confused about dietary restrictions, and the place of meeting is in flux. Your – the organizer – have to deal with your own waterfall of issues – mortgage refi, kids school troubles, broken plumbing, in-laws arriving unexpectedly, less than encouraging results from the last physical, and a recent escalation of tension with your boss… And there are only a couple days to the party. OK. Now I think we have a good metaphor for what my team have to accomplish.

As a matter of fact that is a good metaphor for many complex SI projects I’ve been through. Are there any recipes for avoiding a disaster? Any medicines to take? Well, there is no panacea or silver bullet. Maybe just a few basic guidelines:

  • ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth, and half-a-dozen gentlemen aboard one ship are as bad as two kings of Brentford.’ [1855 C. Kingsley Westward Ho! II. vii.] There are more quotes and proverbs stating the same point that I can possible number. And the guidance in this case is very simple; it was clearly stated in ’86 movie Highlander – “There can be only one”. There can be only one head of the engagement with authority across all troops involved.
  • Collaborate or die. That’s almost a truism when it comes to distributed engagements. Yet, I am still looking for a team, an engagement, or at least a project on which all stakeholders agree that they have no communication issues and nothing can be possibly improved. So do you best and of course when it comes to communicating use common standards, common language, common tools – or should I just say “Remember the Babylon!” ;)
  • Eliminate the waste. When it comes to final stages of engagement the troops are tired, the deadlines are tighter, pressures are higher, and inevitably, the team’s ability to employ common sense deteriorates. I have seen unnecessary testing cycles, stupid mistakes, round about ways to address the issues, “group grope” meetings and other wasteful activities proliferate at astounding rate as engagements get closer to the end. A JavaScript error triggers call to a DBA who engages in hours of troubleshooting at database level. Configuration change pushes QA Manager to request a full round of regression testing. A tag naming discussion turns into 2 hr long all-hands. And so on. Stay on look out and eliminate the waste with the vengeance.
  • Don’t change horses in midstream. Adjusting your methodology, changing processes and procedures are better left to discussion on full stomach, when all the potluck meals have been served and consumed. Implementing even most brilliant SDLC improvements does not belong to the final stage of engagement.
  • Watch the clock. I am not talking about counting the minutes left till the launch press conference, no, I am talking about hours your best performers put on the project. There are limits to what even the strongest members can continuously put in without deterioration in productivity. A minor mistake by a release manager who has been working 70 hrs a week for past two months will throw you back completely destroying the gains built to date by all that overtime.

Boy, I’m looking at the list above and I see that we broke all these rules… no wonder the only time I have to write this post is 4 AM ;(

PO Trip Adviser: India

Continuing with a line of travel guides I turn to the most common outsourcing destination – India. There are a plenty of outstanding travel guides for India, so if you are planning to combine business and pleasure, and see places such as the Agra, Rajasthan, and Kerala make sure you study them before you depart.  Keep in mind though that most of the most interesting places will take dedicated and possibly considerable time, for example while Taj Mahal is fairly close to Delhi / Noida the trip there is going to take you at least a day.

For those of us who are limited to strictly business, here are a few tips to consider:

  • A Visa is easy to get, but it may take a few weeks so allocate sufficient time.
  • Safety of travel in India is not what it used to be just a few years ago, yet large outsourcing cities remain quite safe for majority of business travelers.
  • Shop around for tickets and ask frequent India travelers for advice. Chances are you can find something 30% less than standard internet rates using Indian travel consolidators.
  • Chances are you will arrive in India around midnight. I typically go straight to a hotel right near the airport and start my business day the next morning.
  • Stay in nice hotels, 4-5 stars. They are relatively affordable and the high quality service will help you to retain the energy you most certainly need.
  • Ask the vendor to arrange all your travel and have a car with a chauffer. Don’t even think about driving in India. The traffic and road system is not for the faint of heart plus they drive on the wrong side of the road!
  • Petty corruption is widespread in India, from expediting you through airport customs to dealing with government agencies and employees can involve bribing or “tipping” as it is often referred to. My advice it to stay away from it.
  • Make sure you have your personal belongings partitioned among suite cases and carry on. Lost luggage is a fairly common event. Use solid suitcases as mishandling is also common at airports.
  • Don’t wander off the beaten track, don’t encourage beggars, don’t visit shady places, don’t leave your valuables unattended, don’t put your wallet in your back pocket, use licensed guides in sightseeing – basically use common sense!
  • Eat only in good restaurants or at your hotel. Avoid eating buffet meals, even in high-end places. Not only drink bottled water, but also brush your teeth with it.

PO Trip Adviser: Russia

While working on a outsourcing destinations chapter for my book I realized that tips for travel in many countries could be helpful to those not accustomed to traveling to third world countries and other outsourcing destinations.  Of course there are plenty of books, websites and forums covering travel to any place in the world.  I am not planning on competing with them in any way, my goal is create a simple list of items to keep in mind when visiting a vendor far away from your home becomes necessary.   I am planning to put a couple posts covering few countries that I have a fortune to spend time in and let me start with the one that I lived in for 30 years…

So, here we go – a few tips on traveling to Russia – one of the top Eastern European outsourcing destinations:

  • Visas are required and getting one can be a tricky process. Make sure you allocate at least one month for processing the paperwork.
  • Unfortunately terrorism and street crime are a part of daily lives in many parts of the Russia. Still, on a relative scale, Russia, and especially the tier-one cities, are safe and great places to visit.
  • Shop around for tickets. If you know any Russians who stay connected to their motherland, ask them for help. There are many Russian travel agencies that can find great deals on tickets.
  • Staying in nice hotels can be price prohibitive, particularly in tier-one cities. Ask your vendor for help with travel arrangements.
  • You can rent a car and drive in Russia. Be prepared for a manual stick shift and very aggressive driving styles. You may face very serious traffic and won’t see any signs in English, so finding your way can be a challenge.
  • Ask your vendor to arrange sightseeing for you. Due to large distances and complexities in city navigation, you would be much better off on a guided tour. And I assure you Russian cities and their suburbs have a lot to offer a curious visitor such as architecture, landscape and even shopping.
  • Ask your vendor for recommendation when it comes to restaurants. Nowadays, especially the big cities, offer a great variety of styles and cuisines but the cost can be astronomical. Just like many other destinations, not only drink bottled water but also brush your teeth with it.
  • Prices are generally quoted in rubles. Currency can be freely converted at banks, hotels or kiosks specifically for tourists.

If you have any suggestions, ideas or tips on travel to Russia please comment or email me, I’ll be happy to update the list.

Hidden Meaning of Common Phrases

A while ago I started covering multiple aspects of negotiations as they relate to offshore outsourcing. The topic of negotiations is broad and multi-dimensional. Some of the aspects of negotiations are applicable to communications at large, to the areas where regular conversations and negotiations blend in creating just a regular business communications. In that light I’d like to touch upon a very important subject – uncovering hidden meaning of conversations.

Business traditions, common aspects of professional communications and society rituals as well as personal preferences and needs change straightforward communications to slightly encrypted information flow that if not appropriately deciphered could become misleading, deceiving and confusing. Consider a very simple example: You present a system design to java architect who reports to you and after you presentation he says – “I like your system design but IMHO it lacks integrity.” What did he just say? Well, you probably know how to translate this sentence – “Your design sucks and if you were not my boss I would fire you on a spot”.

When working for decent company as a part of trustworthy solid team verbal maces of politics give way to WISIWIG communication style. Even though we still sugarcoat bad news and follow professional standards of communications there is not much hiding of true meaning in our conversations. The situation is quite different when it comes to sales process and negotiations between not too close partners. That’s why you need to study a few techniques that give you the insider look into hidden meanings of conversations.

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Five levels of customer satisfaction

A few days ago Sathya, an onsite offshore coordinator aka account manager working with my company, stopped by to discuss what he and his company could do to earn my trust and to make me happy. I wish more people in my life would ask the same questions, in particular women. And I tell you, in many cases the answers would be exceptionally simple. Well, not when it comes to making me happy as a CTO managing multimillion dollar technology budget. In this case earning my trust and keeping me happy is a very tall order. I am sure that many of you are dealing with the same question (either asking or answering it), so I think there is a value in sharing what I told Sathya…

There are at least 5 levels / horizons of customer satisfaction that the vendor has to achieve. There is a natural order to these horizons and there is no reason even to approach fifth level till you are done with the first one. And of course reaching just one horizon doesn’t give you much. You need to maintain all five in perfect state to achieve that illusive customer sat…

The first horizon is the company / corporation itself. The company engaged you as the vendor in order to achieve certain objectives. The company has specific metrics it wants you to comply with – financial, quality, productivity, etc. Before your go any further you need to meet the expectations established by these metrics. In case the company did not establish the metrics you should do it yourself and bring them to the company. Show us, the corporation, that you are contributing to the overall success of the company, helping us with the bottom line, delivering to the benchmarks of quality that are same or better than internal personnel, meeting deadlines and staying under budget. Even though that appears a difficult horizon to reach, it is actually the simplest one. Catering to the organization is a high level task, it allows you to be generally correct, meet expectations in most cases, etc. you do not have to be always perfect. Some failures and individual mishaps do not appear on executive radars and could be averaged out by successful projects and other money saving initiates. Continue reading

How to say Thank You in your provider’s language?

Thank you, спасибо, gracias, dziękuję, спасибі, धन्यवाद, آپ کا شکریہ, obrigado, 谢谢… How do you say it? Do you even need to say it? What if you want to say more?

In general, motivation of your offshore team should not be your responsibility. Your vendor should make sure that the team members are jazzed up with working for you. As a matter of fact washing hands off the HR headaches is one of the reasons many company consider outsourcing. Yet when you find yourself working through thick and thin with resources based in some third world country the ability to influence their morale and productivity becomes very import. Of course there are plenty of ways you can influence third party resources that fall in the “stick” category, and what about the “carrot”?

Dealing with both the carrot and the stick I look at relationships with third parties at three levels – corporate, team, and individual. Unsurprisingly, each level requires a different methodology; an approach that you use to award an individual team member varies drastically from recognizing the corporation. Motivation at each can make its contribution to overall impact on your initiative. Sometimes you need all three and sometimes you are most effective when using just one. You could be using a stick at one level and carrot at another. There are a plenty of combinations, 27 to be precise :)

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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.

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