Top 7 Tips for Managing an Offshore Project
By John Parker
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If you're managing an offshore IT project or have a stake in one, then surely you must know that it requires more management effort than an onshore project does. You'll have an offshore project manager -- in most cases, a senior professional from the outsourcer -- to manage delivery. But, as the onshore manager or stakeholder, the responsibility to meet or exceed business expectations is yours. Remember that the project was approved as a business project; only you can ensure that the project delivers business benefits. Any offshore manager will likely execute the project as a mere IT project, which may not necessarily align with your objectives. You don't want surprises. You want certainty. If you want to meet business expectations, don't ignore these 10 critical points:
- Review your plan.
Before starting a project, walk through the plan and budget with the offshore manager. This is a crucial first step, especially if the project was awarded on a competitive basis where price was a major factor. Understand the assumptions made by the outsourcer. You want to make sure that corners won't be cut. Confirm the time and resource estimates. Make sure the designated project team understands your quality expectations. Reassure yourself that the plan is feasible. The level of understanding gets better the more you interact with the outsourcer, and you'll certainly reduce future surprises. As you know, scope disagreements get messy and expensive to resolve as a project progresses. Raise a red flag to the project sponsor immediately if things don't seem right.
Think about what should happen at the end of the project, too. For example, plan your staff involvement based on the future roles of your staff and that of the outsourcer. Ensure that you have adequate staff involved at the right stages to take over the deliverables completed by the outsourcer.
This is also the appropriate time to familiarize yourself with the outsourcer selection process if you weren't involved with it. Finalize outsourcer performance metrics -- some or all of which may have been identified during selection. During project execution, track performance against these. This will give you a yardstick to determine whether expectations were truly met.
- Agree on the processes.
Your project processes are very likely different from those of the outsourcer. You'll need to agree on the processes to be used. If the outsourcer has to follow your standards, then ensure that the offshore team understands all the nuances.
Very likely, the outsourcer has similar project experience, and you should be prepared to learn and benefit from that. Be flexible with respect to the needs of the offshore team. Provide the required systems environment. Use tools for change management and issue tracking. Be prepared to change your own processes, as it could be an opportunity to improve. By agreeing on processes upfront, you'll run the project more efficiently.
- Budget for offshore visits.
Plan visits to the offshore facility. Depending on the nature of your project, a substantial portion of the team will be based offshore. That team must know who you are. You must communicate business expectations in person. You also need to maintain personal contact during the course of the project.
You should seriously consider walk-throughs, reviews and testing at the offshore location for three reasons. First, you'll be assured that any feedback is understood and incorporated accurately. Second, your offshore feedback can be incorporated in a timely manner; delayed feedback from your site will take longer to implement if the developers have moved on to other tasks or new projects. And third, your personal feedback will motivate the offshore team.
Budget for these visits as part of your overall project budget. Plan for specific people from your team to make these trips.
- Be flexible on task location.
Things don't always go as planned. Later in the project, you will realize that it wasn't a good idea to send certain project tasks offshore. For example, offshore development for a new business process may prove to be slow with a multisite team. Be prepared for such situations. Anticipate revisions to the budget and plan. You want to deliver business benefits. Be flexible to accommodate a justifiable cost overrun, especially if that's the only way you can meet business objectives.
- Give extra attention to the soft factors.
Introduce your stakeholders to the offshore team. Don't hesitate to share their concerns. Let them know who in your organization is excited about software outsourcing and who isn't. Set expectations of success. If it's a new experience, you're very likely to revise your expectations as you learn more about offshore outsourcing. Be careful about changing your expectations with the passage of time, but if you have, say so. Talk to the offshore manager and revise plans accordingly. You could potentially reschedule deliverables, rescope the work and revise the plan and budget.
Devote additional efforts to managing user expectations. When the team is offshore, the users rely on you more than usual for progress information. Don't let users speculate on the health of the project. Tell them about the accomplishments. Also, don't hide bad news. Agree on contingency plans ahead of time with the offshore manager. By demonstrating transparency and proactive planning, users will perceive your being in control of the project.
- Maintain constant contact.
One of the major advantages of offshore outsourcing is that you get at least two business days for each of your weekdays. Therefore, the amount of your communication could actually double. This aspect is very critical to the success of offshore outsourcing. You want to make sure that the business is heard and that the offshore team also gets your ear. Ensure that messages are exchanged in a timely manner.
You're familiar with the challenge of understanding users' requirements and delivering what they want. With offshore outsourcing, that challenge is even greater. The severity of the consequences will depend on the stage of the project and the volatility of the user requirements. To mitigate this risk, users should be prepared to spend more of their time with the team. Likewise, the outsourcer's team should be tuned-in. The presence of subject-matter experts on that team who work alongside the users is the best solution.
As always, review progress rigorously and stay focused on metrics such as time to complete and effort to complete.
- Complete one full cycle quickly.
No matter how good your plan is, the best test for ensuring success is to go through a full cycle of the project as soon as possible. This isn't necessarily a pilot; it's an exercise to go through all the steps leading up to going live. If possible, release for production use the first module delivered by the outsourcer. This will be an opportunity for you to examine and test all the steps. It's the only way to avoid costly surprises. The integration and interfaces of your applications may work in the test environment but fail in production. Your acceptance tests -- formal hand-over by the outsourcer -- precede the go-live stage. Additional problems will be revealed only after you implement the accepted solution.
For a full-cycle test, involve your application team, data center, quality assurance people, compliance team and user groups. Get necessary support from the offshore team, because you want the first cycle to be an unqualified success.
This article is powered by A-1 Technology, an offshore outsourcing company.
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Article Submitted On: May 09, 2005