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IT Offshoring Communication Problems and How to Solve Them

January 14, 2019
Alex Slobozhan
Outsourcing software development comes with unbeatable benefits. However, startups and product owners are reluctant in their move towards offshore IT development, as they are aware of potential risks. Communication breakdown is among the critical concerns for international teams because of the low level of trust and the lack of an established communication framework.

Based on our experience as an offshore IT service provider, we've analyzed the major communication roadblocks and formulated four critical concerns. We'll share the ways you can fix these communication issues before they cause your project's downfall.

I'm Afraid to Outsource Because of Communication and Cultural Barriers

This is the most common concern among startups and established businesses willing to outsource development. However, few realize that the problem is three-fold and includes multiple layers of communication breakdown, such as:

Organizational barriers.

Communication troubles occur when industry incumbents or traditional enterprises hire a development team with an Agile approach. The clash between opposing business cultures and approaches breeds mistrust and leads to project failure. The same can happen to startups outsourcing IT services to vendors using the traditional approach.

The only way to overcome organizational barrier is to prevent them when selecting an IT vendor. Acknowledge your business model and operational approach and seek a like-minded development team. You can learn about the company's IT strategy during an interview and through online research.

Cultural barriers.

National mentality, cultural traditions, and language barrier are valid concerns when hiring an IT development team from across the globe. Failure to acknowledge the cultural differences causes misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and an overall feeling of dissent within the team. Communication becomes strained, and projects fail.

With a variety of countries hosting established offshore development centers, you can choose an IT vendor with minimal cultural differences. EU startups have been successfully cooperating with outsourcing teams from Ukraine, Belarus, and other Eastern European states. If you want to learn more about Ukrainian IT outsourcing and choosing the right vendor for a startup with a minimal budget, check out our previous blog posts.

Semantic barriers.

Different industries and niches use professional jargon, sometimes without realizing it. As a result, the outsourcing team and the product owner speak different languages leading to miscommunication. The project gets delayed, the costs increase, and the venture fails.

Solutions to this problem are two-fold. First, create a project glossary that includes all terms and definitions divided into categories. Second, share the glossary with all members of the distributed team and make its use mandatory. The latter is the most complicated part of the solution, but this approach prevents misunderstandings and ensures you and the offshore team are on the same page. The same issues can occur with your office team. Whether you rely on your own technical team or balance in-house and outside developers, a glossary is always a good idea.

I Don't Know how to Set up Communication with an Offshore Team

Email, Skype calls, and instant messaging make communication with an outsourcing team easy. Still, the deadlines get pushed back because you couldn't make the meeting, and the report gets lost among hundreds of emails in your Inbox. It's nothing startups haven't seen before. However, when communication mishaps pile up, you get nervous; the team becomes frustrated, and nothing gets done on time. If you are lucky, your investors and customers will be willing to wait an extra month or two. If you are not, you will lose the money and support, and your idea will join thousands of failed startups.

The worst-case scenario is easy to avoid if you create a project communication plan at the development onset. Cooperate with the team's project manager or lead developer to establish:

1. Communication goals.

Decide what you want to achieve. Understanding the goals will help you select appropriate communication types and create a seamless understanding with the members of the distributed team. Typical communication goals are:

  • Introduce changes to the project's feature set or scope;
  • Provide regular feedback to the offshore team;
  • Update the project's needs, budget, deadlines.

2. Stakeholder data.

List all parties responsible for the project's development and build a table. Include a person's name, position, and contact information, add preferred communication type and the frequency of contact. This data will ensure you know everyone working on the project and how to reach them. Alternatively, the team will clearly understand your communication needs and expectations.

3. Communication types.

Make a list of all kinds of communications you wish to establish with the team. Set the frequency and detail the goals of each communication type, including the information to be shared. For instance, your weekly email report should include the budget burn, deliverables met and changed, next items on the development agenda, roadblocks, etc. Another example is a daily scrum that follows a set scenario and enables the team to share progress, plans, and blockers.

I Don't Have Time for Useless Meetings and Calls

Startup founders have too much on their plate to micromanage the development team, and you don't have time to waste on calls and meetings that don't serve the purpose of getting the product to the market. However, missing the calls and meetings is not an option, as not every issue can be resolved via email or Slack. Once again, the problem is easier to prevent than to solve. At the project's onset, establish a clear framework for the meeting types and devise rules and templates to follow.

Types of meetings may differ in length, the number of team members involved, and their purpose. Create a table of appropriate meeting types and specify their details. Your list may include regular meetings, milestone reports, issue arbitration, scope change meetings, and more.

To ensure every meeting with the remote team is productive and time-efficient, establish meeting rules and create templates for reports, minutes, and other communication-related documentation. The rules help to keep the meeting on track and within the set timeframe. You can also add conditional clauses to be implemented in case the Skype call doesn't solve all immediate issues. Meeting templates take time to develop, but they save days in the long run. You can use the same set of templates for different projects. Besides, following the script helps keep all members of the team on the same page.

I Don't Have the Right Tools for Efficient Communication

When the team members reach out to you via Skype, Email, Slack, Jira, Redmine, WhatsApp, Facebook, Google Hangouts, and other channels, it is easy to get confused and lose valuable information. With so many communication tools available, choosing only one or two seems impossible and counterproductive. However, that's exactly what you need to do at the beginning of the project.

Pick two or three information-sharing options. Remember to enable the message and data exchange, audio, and video channels. For example, you can use Jira or another task-management platform to secure technical documentation, keep your meeting rules and templates. Skype or Google Hangouts can be the ultimate way to chat, have video and audio calls, as well as share files. Add your chosen communication channel to your meeting rules and do not provide additional contact information if you don't want the team to reach out to you via Twitter or Facebook.

Building a communication framework might seem like a lot of work when you have a million other things to take care of, but it has proven its efficiency. All the rules, tables, and templates create a logical and flexible structure that keeps you and the offshore team on the same page every step of the way.

Was our advice on communicating with your IT outsourcing team helpful? If so, share this post on social media to help your peers. Subscribe to FreshCode blog to more actionable tips and let us know what topics excite you the most. We'll answer your questions and share our experience.
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