Working as a software product manager is always challenging, but working with offshore development teams presents unique challenges and pitfalls. The key is to understand the pitfalls and do your best to avoid them, because for better or for worse offshore development is here to stay.
So let’s cut to the chase, what are the main pitfalls?
- Lack of Communication: Most offshore teams you will likely work with are based in South Asia, or occasionally Central/Eastern Europe; however in both cases the distance can cause large gaps. A substantial portion of this gap results from the large time differences, which can mean that by the time you wake up it’s already the end of the work day for your Dev team. Unfortunately, there usually is no way to truly resolve this unless your Dev team keeps US hours or vice versa, but this can be mitigated by having a standing meeting that works for both you and your Dev team (Warning: be prepared to be an early riser). Typically, if you are working with a South Asian team this will mean having a call at 7am or earlier.
- Cultural Differences: Often unaccounted for, cultural differences can have a profound effect on the productivity of your project. This can result from both language and cultural barriers. Make sure you’re aware of the business culture of the development team you are working with. By articulating your working style you can give your Dev team perspective into your business culture as well. As for the language barriers, this necessitates extra care when writing clear and unambiguous requirements. Additionally, requirements you may have thought were detailed enough for an onshore team will generally need extra detail when dealing with offshore teams.
- Lack of Developer Feedback: Offshore Dev teams may sometimes sign off on your requirements only to comeback a month later to tell you that a certain feature is not possible. One way you can help address this is by developing visual models to help explain the nature of the requirements and setting up multiple sessions to walkthrough requirements documents. Make sure not to set up a 4 hour block to go through your 250 page functional requirements document, because you might get sign off, but it’ll bite you later.
Working with offshore teams is challenging, but by no means impossible. Early on, make sure you’re aware that you’ll be working with an offshore team, take into account the pitfalls, and most importantly be adaptable.