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How To Balance the Project Management Differences of Offshore Centers

By Vimal Kumar Khanna

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A new delivery model has emerged in today's global IT organizations. Software projects are executed by both the main office and a satellite office in another country, with the home office project manager assigning project components to teams in each location.

In this situation, the offshore center team is expected to follow home office norms, including its project management processes, team hierarchies and documentation standards. However, since these norms are not tuned to the unique requirements and expectations of the offshore center teams, these teams often fail to deliver on the project objectives.

To make the most of the offshore/home office model, the project manager needs to understand when unique characteristics make it necessary for the offshore center team to follow a different set of project management norms. At the start of the project, the project manager should decide on a set of overall norms and another set of location-specific norms. He or she also should be willing to adopt the best practices from one location in the other if these practices benefit the overall project.

ONE SIZE DOESN'T FIT ALL

I once worked on a program involving a U.S. company and its offshore center in India. Project managers in the home office and offshore center each managed some components of the projects and reported to a director in the home office.

The director asked the offshore center project manager to hire senior technical employees with similar experience as the senior technical people in the home office. This translated to at least eight years of experience in the technical domain of the company's projects.

This was not an easy request in India, where many employees in technical roles switch to management positions after just a few years of experience, since they look for all-around growth and want to handle both technical and managerial responsibilities during their careers. Thus, technical professionals in India may be younger and have less experience than such professionals in the U.S. But the director refused to relax the hiring criteria, fearing that less-experienced technical workers would not be able to deliver the projects. The offshore center manager ended up hiring technical professionals with at least eight years’ experience but with only half, or less, of their experience being relevant to the company's technical domain.

Although the project director was satisfied, the offshore center now was incurring the high salary cost of senior employees who had years of technical experience irrelevant to the projects. Project execution costs were high while the output was low, leading to lower profit margins for the company.

TAILORED SOLUTIONS

This problem could have been prevented if the home office director had realized that the offshore center project manager was experienced enough to effectively hire and manage her team. The director should have insisted only on the offshore center team delivering the expected results on the projects, rather than dictating the approach to be followed.

A similar situation could arise with project documentation, which in India tends to be quite meticulous and detailed. Such detailed documentation means young team members can still easily understand their project tasks, get up to speed and deliver successfully. Further, when a senior technical team member decides to switch to a management role, the detailed project documentation allows his or her project tasks to be quickly transitioned to another team member. However, if the project leader in the home office does not make an effort to understand the reasons for such a strong focus on project documentation in the offshore center, he or she might think of it as a waste of time and effort.

Project leaders in home offices must learn to appreciate the ground realities in the offshore centers and know when imposing home office norms doesn't work. This can help ensure the success of shared offshore projects by focusing on results and giving teams abroad the freedom to tailor project management techniques to meet requirements. PM

img Vimal Kumar Khanna is founder and managing director of mCalibre Technologies, New Delhi, India and the author of the book Leading and Motivating Global Teams: Integrating Offshore Centers and the Head Office.

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