Friday, April 2, 2010

Team Management: Why your offshore test team cannot perform (well)?

Companies have been off-shoring work due to cost advantages and unavailability of local personnel as well as for mitigating risk and due to other practical compulsions. However, over the years I have heard about numerous instances when the offshore test team was unable to perform well. The issues in the performance of the offshore test team have the potential of breaking down the entire communication between the on-site team and the off-shore team. The presence and severity of these issues depend on
a. The level of commitment of your on-site management to the success of the off-shore team
b. Your level of knowledge of the people, processes and tools off-shore
c. The off-shore team's level of knowledge about the on-site people, processes, tools and working pressures
d. The intensity of communication and transparency between the on-site and the off-shore teams
e. The level of support given by the off-shore management to the off-shore team
f.  Factors attributable to individuals

Depending on the above factors, your off-shore team may or may not face issues with their performance. In fact, I have experienced off-shore test teams that perform well as an integral part of the overall test organization. Regardless, you should be aware of the potential issues with the performance of the off-shore test teams. Let us see what these issues are.

Issues due to poor on-site management
1. Without realizing it, you do not give due credit to the work done by the off-shore team. Your on-site team members duplicate this approach.
2. Due to personal reasons, the on-site team members do not share information readily with the off-shore team.
3. The on-site and off-shore team members do not travel to the other location. Therefore, they only have a working relationship but no rapport with each other.
4. You micro-manage the off-shore team, wanting to know about their daily plan in detail and asking them to update you after finishing every task. This leaves them with lesser time to focus on their core tasks.
OR
Due to your other commitments, you do not review the work done by the off-shore team at all or in a timely fashion.

Issues due to distance
5. Due to differences in time zones, your off-shore team does not participate in your important meetings. They miss out important information updates and come to know about them (much) later, may be after there is a problem. Due to lack of timely communication, they do not realize the urgency of situations developing in the project.
6. If you wish to pass on important information or discuss something urgently, you have limited options other than to write an email or wait to call the next day.
7. Using email as the primary means of communication forces you and your off-shore team to compromise on the completeness of information exchanged.

Issues due to language differences
8. The off-shore team cannot understand your verbal or written updates or instructions completely or in the spirit intended by you.
9. You have trouble understanding their communication e.g. verbal status updates or defect reports.

Issues due to company differences
10. The rigor of the processes followed by you and them is totally different. For example, you are agile but your off-shore team has been following a regimented approach in their projects so far.

Issues due to skill level differences
11. Some team members off-shore have little knowledge of testing.
12. The off-shore test team knows little about your application/ product/ service. Due to this, they focus on the wrong areas of the system under test or miss obvious problems in test.
13. They are not familiar with the tools used by the on-site organization.

Issues due to differences in working style
14. Unlike you, they do not work independently. They wait to be told and do only what you have specifically asked them to do, nothing more.
15. Whereas your working hours are flexible, their working hours are fixed due to local constraints.

Issues due to poor off-shore management
16. The off-shore team does not have a strong and communicative leader. You have a vague idea of the problems faced by the off-shore team or their plan or progress.
17. The work done by the off-shore team is not reviewed locally but submitted directly to the on-site team. This leads to problems that you need to resolve at both ends.
18. Your off-shore team is afraid of losing your work. Therefore, they seek approval from the on-site team members constantly thereby, losing the ability to work on their own with confidence and taxing the time of the on-site team members.
19. Your off-shore team members are simultaneously working on projects other than yours, without your knowledge.
20. Your off-shore team membership keeps changing. This forces everyone concerned to put in their efforts from scratch to bring the new individual up to speed.

Issues due to individuals
21. An off-shore team member is facing a personal issue affecting their productivity. You are not aware of this.
22. The off-shore team has one person who is the incorrect role model for the others. This intensifies the problems of the off-shore test team.

However, the situation is not all bad. You may experience success with your off-shore test team if you have the foresight to identify the potential issues, mitigate them and are motivated to make the relationship work over a long term. Build an off-shore team with hand-picked skilled, reliable, stable and motivated individuals. See what issues exist with your team. Make them aware of the issues and resolve each issue with the help of your off-shore test team. If your off-shore team is like most others, they would be more than happy to make the necessary changes to work up to your expectations.

What issues have you faced in working with an off-shore/ on-site team? Comment on the issue faced by you.