Managing multinational multicultural onshore/offshore teams for effective project delivery



With the explosion of global economy and many of the large organizations flocking for services around the world, “global service delivery” has taken hold. Organizations have adopted the “global service delivery” for multiple reasons, the primary ones among them being”

  • Deliver cost effective solutions for the customers
  • Improve company competitiveness and business strength

Hence, organizations must anticipate the effects of this delivery model on their processes, culture and business. Differences in culture and business practice can place offshore outsourcing initiatives at risk, particularly for teams with limited international experience. Also deciding which application development roles to selectively outsource requires enterprises to compare the risk of losing internal expertise and morale vs. the potential savings. This presentation serves as an educational tool to help large enterprises:

  • Understand the project risks associated with Global Service Delivery for I.T projects
  • Respond rapidly and cost-effectively to those risks without undermining corporate and project goals
  • Identify core Knowledge areas and leverage the best resources for those knowledge areas

The principles outlined in this approach promote best practices in Project management and can be applied not only to offshore but to offsite projects as well.


Gartner has identified the following as “Six areas of Core Knowledge” (2003)that need to be retained locally to enhance the success of global application development. (Exhibit 1)

Exhibit 1

Source: Gartner (July 2003)

Exhibit 1

In our projects we have utilized the onshore resources' strength within these knowledge areas for successful delivery of the project. During project planning, executing and controlling processes we paid attention to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guided knowledge areas, of Human Resources Management, Communications Management and Project Integration management for our global projects. Our discussion in this paper will focus on processes that were followed and how we executed our global projects by leveraging the following areas of core knowledge within the team:

  • Enterprise Knowledge
  • Cultural Knowledge

Enterprise Knowledge

“How do our products, services and systems blend together?”

Traditionally the easiest way of retaining the “Enterprise Knowledge” was to utilize the environment at the client site. With the “global service delivery”, it is not easy to replicate the enterprise knowledge and infrastructure offshore. This issue is exacerbated if the client uses third party products (e.g. credit card processing). At the onset of each application development project, careful thought and planning needs to be applied to determine which aspects of the services and systems can be replicated and how. Thought also needs to be given to how these systems and services can be accessed without conflict and contention and maintaining the global access environment with the changes in the enterprise. This section discusses the processes the project manager and the team members must follow not only at the beginning of the project but during the execution of the project in both the application development and maintenance phases.

When the Work Breakdown Structure for a global project is created, it is essential, that all the tasks associated with replicating the client environment are identified within each one of the global service delivery environments. Stakeholders fail to appreciate and understand the complexity, and, therefore, the associated cost, of creating an offshore environment. Subsequently the only guaranteed mechanism of buy-in from the stakeholders is to present a detailed WBS outlining all the tasks.

It is essential to identify all the constraints in each of the global environments. When planning the system processes, time zones in which the environment is operating need to be recognized. Offshore teams may require access to system resources, whereas, at a certain time each week the client may be performing system maintenance or backups during this period. It is important to plan for such conflicts and make the stakeholders aware of such dependencies. It might be a routine process with no particular importance to the client team, however there might be a critical testing dependency for offshore teams.

Remote maintenance projects have major challenges in keeping their environments synchronized with the client's environment and system dependencies. A dependency could have changed in the client's environment, but if the offsite teams aren't informed of that change, then the remote environment no longer mirrors the client environment, and the testing process doesn't yield the results that it is expected to yield. To overcome this issue, the project manager must create an effective communication plan which clearly outlines how all updates are communicated. More than creation of the communication plan, the key is in publicizing and getting the buy-off from all the stakeholders of the systems and processes.

These processes collectively not only facilitated the team to accomplish milestones but more importantly facilitated learning how the systems coexisted in the client environment. As the systems were updated the processes put in place ensured that all the teams were made aware of the changes thereby avoiding last minute surprises.

Peer reviews are a critical process in understanding what people are working on. Local team members reviewed the deliverables produced by the remote team, and vice versa on a frequent basis. This helped increase awareness of the overall project within the team.

To minimize confusion and misinterpretation of information, it is essential all stakeholders communicate in the client's business language. This communication protocol ensures all team members gain a rapid understanding of the client's business. This is relevant when you consider technology resources rarely spend time understanding the client's business or processes. Utilizing client data for testing, even as early as unit testing helped facilitate the offshore team's understanding of the business.

In order to maximize integration and transition, it is important to use the same tools used by the client. All tools which generate deliverables or tools which are automated must use those currently used by the client. For example, we ensured the system for issue tracking and knowledge management was accessible from the client environment.

Limiting the team knowledge to the work contained within the statement of work does not provide the onshore and offshore teams with sufficient knowledge of the client processes, system dependencies and architecture. It is imperative sufficient time is spent explaining to all team members the external touch points. It is impossible to test a system completely if the team doesn't know how dependent systems will interpret the data sent to those applications, or the team doesn't understand the data that has been passed into your application.

Cultural Knowledge

How do we do things here? What are our beliefs? Who really makes decisions?

Awareness of the client's culture is essential for the success of application development projects, irrespective of the location of the development team. The difficulties that stem from the differences between a U.S. enterprise and an offshore team in primary conversational languages and culture, as well as the inconveniences caused by the need to communicate remotely affect this knowledge area. These factors are further complicated by operations across different time zones, as well as the complexities inherent in running a project concurrently in multiple countries.

The internal knowledge base of resources from past engagements with the client helped the team understand the client culture. The processes of Kick-off, peer review and quality assurances utilized in the project had the additional objective of ensuring the onshore team's knowledge in this area, is passed onto the offshore team.

“Expatriates Help Reduce Risks in Offshore Outsourcing” — the participation of multi-culturally experienced individuals in an offshore outsourcing project helped us avert cross-cultural misunderstandings and ensure project success. In this section we discuss our real –life example of having team members that were located in Australia, India and United States and how we were able to utilize twenty four hour application development and the processes that facilitated to achieve this objective. We had a lead role in each location that had previous experience working on projects at the client environment. The expatriates were able to instill the client perspective for the local team in the project. This helped us to literally follow the sun and have a 24 hour development cycle on certain days of the week as illustrated in Exhibit 2.

Follow the Sun

Exhibit 2 : Follow the Sun

“Account for Dead time” — there is productive overlap across the teams only for 80% of the week. Having the workday start routinely on Sunday night is not a practical option when the structure is team based. The team needs to agree upon modes of communication and escalation mechanisms and minimum turnaround times. For example, one outstanding question could mean a loss of a productive day. We setup local numbers utilizing VOIP so the team members can call each other without having to worry about whether they can make international calls from their cell phones, or whether the offshore team can reach them when they are in a party.

“Setup Resource Based Calendars” — in the initial stages of the project it is critical to establish resource based calendars and have each project resource review and approve their calendar. We realized the significance of this task, when we compared the estimation plan developed as part of the proposal process and the execution plan as part of delivering the project. The schedule impact was a significant one and we were able to mitigate the impacts because we found the impact in the early phases of the project. This is important because of different national holidays in different countries and the individual vacation plans. These are often overlooked if this is not undertaken as a separate task and each team member follows-up, reviews and commits to these calendars.

“Yes doesn't always mean the same” — In some cultures it is more difficult to say no, so they would interpret the yes with a modified set of expectations and deliver on it, which is not what is expected by the PM. It is very difficult to go back and have the team change something after they have spent nights and days on delivering to the modified understanding. So, when the off-shore team commits to a task or when they say they understand what the requirement is, it is always best to have them explain it back, to identify the differences in understanding and expectations.

“Communication” — is the critical link for any project, but is more so and especially true for off-shore projects. The project manager, if he can do one and only one thing in the project that would be to facilitate effective communication among team members. At the onset of the project, daily project meetings were held to ensure uncertainty is minimized when it mostly occurs. We posted the organization chart of the stakeholders, to facilitate understanding of the client culture in terms of who makes what decisions. We also had key members of the client participate in the kick-off and milestone review meetings. This facilitated the team's understanding of the client culture. As a policy every document that was sent to the client was posted in a knowledge management system. This ensured that the entire team had visibility into what the client is seeing every week as a status update. The key was not just posting the document, but ensuring that it became part of the culture for every team member to review at the beginning of each week. Part of the initial communication plan was to have e-mail groups based on the functions within the team. At the end of each day, each team member emailed their status to their groups. Although this was an informal update, the practice of emailing, even if it is a one liner every day, was very effective in problem resolution within the team and provided a mechanism for quick escalation across the teams. To understand what each person is working on remotely requires frequent and goal based communication.

“Templates” — it is important to establish templates for correspondence not only to the client but also for correspondences within the team. For the internal correspondence, what is of importance is not necessarily the format or the type of the document but the content categories that need to be in the communications. For example all the status updates must contain the task that the individual is working on, how much percentage is complete and a brief description of what is outstanding. This must be part of the communication culture to include such information even if the communication is informal exchange of e-mails or voice mails. This ensures there is no ambiguity on information exchange and the information is not “lost in translation”.

“Local environmental issues” — in setting up the communication plan for the project, local environment issues must be considered. Ideally you would like to plan your team meetings with minimal inconvenience to your team members. However asking offshore team members to be available locally at 7 a.m. was not practical, as there were some communities in India which didn't have fresh running water until a certain time each day. We had to account for this in our team meeting schedules.

“Alternating Inconvenience” — in setting up the team meetings, we had evening weeks and morning weeks for the LA team. This ended up alternating the weeks the team would have to come in early in case a meeting was needed with another team staying late. Planning for this ahead of time helps the team to prepare for this ahead of time.

Alternating Inconvenience

Exhibit 3 : Alternating Inconvenience

“Resource Utilization” — Project Manager's mustn't over utilize the remote resources to bring maximum profitability to the project. It is essential that workload is distributed evenly and not based on the billing rates. If the project manager doesn't adopt this approach, there will be rapid team burnout and poor team morale within remote and local teams.

“Small Units of Measurable Tasks” — to ensure the remote team understands their tasks, it is beneficial to assign them an activity which is measurable. This will indicate progress and identify if they understand the task objectives. It is difficult to trust delegation when you can't see any measurable results.


There is much anxiety regarding managing and executing an offshore project. However once you take a closer look, there are no new PMBOK® Guide processes required facilitating “Managing Multinational Multicultural Onshore/Offshore Teams for Effective Project Delivery”, however, extra emphasis in certain areas of PMBOK® Guide processes is required when managing global projects. The table below outlines the knowledge areas and processes we applied additional focus during our projects:

PMBOK® Guide Focus Areas

Exhibit 4 : PMBOK® Guide Focus Areas

Project Integration Management is an essential element of global projects to ensure all elements and processes of the project are properly coordinated and each location can function independently, as part of the global delivery process. This process also involves making sure you identify all the components and processes for simulating the client environment at each global location.

Human Resource management is crucial to the success of offshore projects. It is important to establish responsibilities early on in the project, and ensure these responsibilities are effectively communicated to all team members. The project manager must also establish relationships with all team members and nurture an environment where each member understands each other's cultural uniqueness. Team development is an essential ingredient of global projects and we established this by having expatriates work at each development environment.

When staffing a project, it is unusual to assign resources with overlapping roles. However on a global delivery project, the project manager shouldn't be afraid to assign resources with overlapping responsibilities. For example, it is common to have multiple technical architects or a quality assurance resources working at each delivery environment. Managed with caution, this is a scenario where duplicity creates efficiency.

As in all projects, the project manager's main responsibility is to facilitate effective communication. This process takes on additional importance when working on global delivery projects. The project manager must establish an effective communication plan, taking into consideration the requirements of each of the stakeholders. Constraints within communication planning increase with global projects, and the project manager must devise a workable plan to overcome global and local constraints.


•    Project Management Institute (2000) A guide to the project management body of knowledge, (2000 ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

•    Gartner Research Group

© 2004 Vijay Ramaswamy & Gerard Murphy
Originally published as a part of 2004 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Anaheim, California