10 Tips for Managing an Offshore Development Team
Let’s be honest, software development is hard. Working with offshore developers that are not in your office adds it’s own unique set of challenges.
In this guide we are going to share our top tips for working with an offshore development team.
This guide is based on our experience from working with offshore developers as well as running FullScale, a company that provides offshore development.
1. Share Your Product Vision
I think many people make the mistake of just randomly assigning easy work items to offshore developers. Don’t make the mistake of not giving them the full product vision.
All developers need to understand what the goal is and where the project is going. Paint them a picture of your product vision so they can make smart choices as they work on the project.
They also need to understand and be able to see the upcoming work items to do. They want to know they have job security and where the project is going. Be sure to share with them details about release and sprint planning.
Anytime you are working with a remote team it is easy for them to be left in the dark about a lot of things. When you can roam around an office it is easy to have a pulse for what is going on in the business.
If all your remote employees see is a random memes and gifs on Slack, they won’t know what is really going on. Make it a point to over communicate with them on what is going on with the business.
Also, don’t just talk to them once a week or once a day during scrum meetings. Be sure to engage with them 1 on 1 daily to really make sure they are getting their work done and helping out however you can.
3. Overlap Your Work Schedules
One of the biggest challenges with offshore development teams is working on vastly different time zones. My team is in the USA and my offshore team is in the Philippines. They are 13 hours in the future from us.
Luckily, most of my team works a late afternoon to evening shift in the Philippines so we have 3-4 hours of overlap every morning. This enables us to have plenty of time daily for meetings, scrum, and Q&A.
You may also find that you just have to communicate with your team early in the morning or late in the evening. After you put your kids to bed, you may need to spend a few minutes chatting with your offshore team to check in on them. I find myself doing this almost daily.
The shifted hours can also work as an advantage. My USA team is overjoyed about having the Philippines team handle on call support while they sleep!
Offer some of your offshore development team members a couple hundreds extra bucks a month and I bet you can get some of them to shift their work schedules.
4. Simplify Your Communication
Depending on where your company and your offshore team is, odds are they may not be as fluent with your language as you are. The best thing you can do is simplify your communication.
Simplify it by limiting your vocabulary, avoiding metaphors, and cultural references they won’t understand.
Get straight to the point and state the obvious. Be very clear with your directions. If their fluency of your language is not good, get to the point and don’t make them assume anything.
5. Keep Their Work Queue Full, Including a “B” Task
There will be many times when your offshore team may get stuck and need help from someone else. The last thing you want to do is have them get stuck and get nothing accomplished.
There are countless reasons that developers get stuck in middle of their work. From weird compilation issues check in by someone else, business logic questions, lack of clear requirements, etc.
I suggest always having multiple work items in their queue so if they get stuck, they have someone else they can work on. If they get stuck on their “A” task, make sure they have a “B” or “C” priority item they can work on in the meantime.
6. Make Use of Video Conferencing
Doing daily scrum meetings by phone or over Slack works well. But video adds the real human element that can help with team building. It is important than you really get to know your team and build real human relationships with them.
Video can also help you better identify people’s emotions and moods. It is important to make sure your team is happy and getting work done. It is easier to hide behind a keyboard. It is also easier to really ask them how they are progressing on a project.
I especially love building a relationship with my team, joking around with them, and building that rapport. Video conferencing via Skype, Zoom, or some other platform is a great way to do it. We do all of our daily scrum meetings at Stackify over video for this purpose.
7. Give them Real Work To Do
Just because you can find offshore developers for $25 an hour, that doesn’t mean you need to only give them shit work to do. They make $25 an hour because the cost of living where they live is a fraction of Silicon Valley, not because they are junior developers.
Just as your developers hate doing shitty projects, so do they. If you want to recruit and retain top talent on your offshore team, don’t make them do shit work.
I recently hired a developer in our Cebu City, Philippines office that worked at IBM for the last 6 years in Cebu. He might be the smartest developer I have ever hired. He is also the best value I have ever gotten for my money.
Set your expectations high. There are highly skilled developers all over the world. Treat them like it!
8. Don’t Micromanage Them from Afar
Nobody likes to be micromanaged. It is also hard to scale your development team if you can’t empower them and trust them to do the work that needs to be done. It is important that your offshore team has a strong senior developer that can act as a team lead.
If you are having problems getting things done properly, consider if your offshore team lacks senior level leadership. Many companies make the mistake of just trying to hire a bunch of cheap developers.
It is in the best interest of you and your offshore partner both to ensure that your offshore team can be self managing and successful. Make sure you have the right mix of senior developers and potentially a project manager.
9. Get Your Point Across with Pictures and Video
Software development is all about communication. Nothing works better than a screenshot or quick video.
It can take just a few seconds to take a screenshot of something and doodle on it. That little doodle can help people instantly visualize and understand what you were talking about. It can save hours of time.
Another tip is to do the same thing with video. I really like using Vidyard which has a free Google Chrome extension. It makes it absolutely effortless to record a real quick video. Record some feedback about their work or a quick training video and instantly email it.
10. Treat Them Like Your Team, Not an Offshore Team
One of the biggest mistakes is creating an us vs them mentality. Don’t keep your offshore team at arms length. Treat them like they are part of your team, they just happen to work remotely.
- Avoid an us vs them mentality
- Include them in all communication – don’t leave them in the dark
- Include them in company and team meetings
- Meet with them regularly online and even in person
Many companies, including Zapier, leverage an entirely remote development team. Read this article about how they do it: Managing from Afar: How to Run a Remote Team
Hire the Right Offshore Team
We have worked with offshore developers all over the world. There are talented software developers everywhere.
From our experience, we prefer working with developers in the Philippines. Here are some of the top reasons:
- High level of English fluency – Philippines is the 3rd largest English speaking country. About 75% of the whole country can read and understand spoken English.
- Low Cost – You can find excellent developers for $20-$30 an hour.
- Strong Communication Skills – They are excellent communicators and aren’t afraid to speak up or challenge you. They want to do a good job and succeed.
- Talented workforce – We’ve hired developers who previously worked at companies like IBM, NCR, Lexmark, Accenture, and others.
- American Friendly – Want to go visit your team? The Philippines is a great place to travel to. Every sign is in English and everyone speaks it.
Don’t take our word for it though, read this great article by Troy Hunt on the subject: Offshoring roulette: lessons from outsourcing to India, China and the Philippines
Need help building an offshore development team in the Philippines? FullScale can help!