Building agile teams in India Pt 2: Assessing your readiness

Part 2: Assessing our preparedness

Checklist: Were we ready to offshore
The checklist I propose below didn’t exist for us. I wrote this checklist with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. I wish I did have something like this when we started, but hopefully what we learnt is of benefit to others.

Are you ready for your offshoring to take up to 5 years to ROI
Have you sold the ‘purpose’ to the ‘home’ team (leadership and teams)
Are you prepared to place trust in the offshore team to make decisions
Will the offshore teams have meaningful work (i.e. NOT bug fixing)
Will your budget include a ‘building trust’ component
Do you have a ‘local’ who is prepared to relocate
Are you prepared for it to cost 50-100% more than your initial estimates/assumptions
Are you prepared for it to fail? Do you know what failure looks like
Are you prepared to take a risk on another location outside the obvious
Have you considered the various models for offshoring (e.g. Outsource captive, BOT, Offshore etc)

5 years to ROI
It takes a significant investment in time and people to successfully set up a development centre offshore. Recruitment can be difficult, transferring knowledge is hard and you will make many mistakes before you get it right.
If the organisation has a long term strategy in mind than this is fine. However, if it is imperative to cut costs and have software delivered at the same pace, than offshoring may not be right for your organisation.

Selling the purpose to the ‘home’ team
When planning to set up an offshore team, one of the first things you’ll need to do is plan for change management. In this instance making sure the ‘home’ team are not threatened by the establishment of an office in a cheaper area.
Inevitably, setting up in India or elsewhere in asia will cause staff to fear their jobs. If the purpose of setting up a 2nd development centre is not intended to ‘cut’ the home office the sooner this is out in the open the better.

Placing trust in the offshore team/Meaningful work
This is a key component to success. If the offshore team is to be an equal partner, than working out how to ‘trust’ them to handle meaningful work is key. This means, work that contributes to company strategy beyond just ‘bug-fixing’ or maintenance. Trust is an essential component to ensuring the teams are able to work without constant handholding, greatly increasing efficiency.
In Aconex, the work was ownership of key products in the companies portfolio. This has led to greater satisfaction in our Indian office, however, there are a lot of trust building exercises that got them there.
One method is to make sure there are regular visits between the two locations, not just for the senior staff members on the teams. Including budget line items such as “Building Trust” and scaling that budget based on the following formula might work:
If the team is all ‘local’ than a pizza per week per person might suffice. If the team has a number of people in remote locations, than the budget could include X number of trips to each others office per quarter. This makes ‘Trust’ an explicit concept for debate when conversations about budgets take place “Oh, you want to slash the ‘trust’ out of the budget?”

Getting a ‘local’ in the new office
Having a home office rep in your new office, at least for the first year or 2 is a great help. All the successful companies we spoke to had this in common. It enables the new staff to have a point person to help them find the right person, understand cultural differences and help make decisions.
Often, the ‘local’ expert can help with simple things like “In Australia, when someone says …, does that mean they’re angry with me?”. 

Cost overruns
Most valuations on costs to offshore do not take into account the fact that a boutique agile office will cost a lot more than a basic BPO or Services set up, but expect it to cost 50% more than you think and you’ll get close.

Some key takeaways

Be prepared to offshore meaningful work – give teams ownership of products
Don’t rush the hiring – recruit for cultural fit as well as technical skills
Headhunt your key people
Consider using a known agile consultancy to do a build, own, transfer model (BOT)
Put local (home office) people in for extended durations from the beginning


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