How to Overcome Cultural Differences of Outsourced Software Development Teams
Today, the demand for software products is far greater than the available supply in production. The ubiquitous nature of mobile devices and need for new applications on smart phones and tablets has contributed greatly to increased demand for applications software developers. That means, if you limit your opportunities to develop a software project only to the local pool of professionals, you are likely also limiting your business' prospects as well.
In the rush to launch a software product while it is still relevant in the market and there are no other high-quality competitors, it can be hard to find competent and well-rounded professionals on time who possess the needed skills and experience quickly. This demand and urgent need for software developers can often put you in a position where you have to consider software development outsourcing to get your product off the ground on time.
Oftentimes, the best developers in your city and locality are already taken by the more prominent businesses and software development companies. So you may be left with only the programmers who are less experienced and who may have difficulty handling your project properly, despite their best efforts. That can mean you will need to have a much more hands-on management towards the project organization, which is highly time-consuming.
In such cases, it is worthwhile and may be necessary to expand your talent recruitment scope and look at the near-shore (and even global) pool of software developers to hire.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the software development industry is growing steadily, with employment of software developers projected to increase 21% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Outsourcing your software development is not only a viable option, but may be necessary.
Software Development Outsourcing: What you Need to Know
A study on Managing Cross-Cultural Issues in Global Software Outsourcing conducted by a team of researchers led by S. Krishna from the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and Sundeep Sahay from the University of Oslo observes that the trend where much of the software development takes place at offshore locations started back in the 1990s and continues to increase today.
“Software suppliers normally maintain small bridgehead teams in the client countries for sales and customer liaison purpose,” note Krishna, Sahay et al in their study.
Apart from costs being low and labor often plentiful and highly skilled in some outsourcing countries, another one of the most significant benefits of outsourcing is the fact that you can focus on your product planning, without taking on the responsibility to manage the dedicated software team yourself. That means passing over the responsibility for task delegation, hiring processes, employee management, and more. At the same time, the client company takes on this entire aspect of the product development and then some.
Of course, certain specific conditions need considering when choosing to outsource your software development projects or to work with an outsourcing company. For example, the team you outsource may consist of a small or large number of developers who work closely together to help make the project a reality, depending on the needs of your company.
Managing a team in a way that allows excellent communication and limits the chances for misunderstandings can be difficult. Added factors such as long-distance communication using digital tools and cultural differences can also determine the success of your outsourcing.
The risks for misinterpreted information with your outsourced software development team also plays a significant role in the outcome of your project. It is important to mitigate this particular risk to ensure your team works smoothly and you get the best results.
Steps to Overcome Cross-Cultural Challenges in Outsourcing
Different societies and countries tend to have distinct ways of working, and this may lead to cross-cultural issues while attempting collaboration. Differences in work culture, team behavior, or organizational structure, for example, can sometimes lead to project failure if not mitigated.
“Outsourcers often locate executives in the supplier countries to, for example, oversee large projects,” Krishna, Sahay et al write in their report. “All of this makes good economics sense for both sides of cross-border outsourcing relationship, but it raises the question of how best to manage the process.”
Aside from using what Krishna, Sahay et al call 'cultural bridging' staff with people rooted in both cultures, there are a number of other crucial steps you should use to mitigate cross-cultural challenges when outsourcing your software development team.
1. Understand cultural differences
As cliche as it may seem, when working with people with different cultural background, it can be easy to miss out on the meaning of words and communication. Things can get lost in translation, and coming across occasions like this is somewhat inevitable. It is, however, manageable.
Once you choose an outsourcing development team that is remote and with different ethnicity and cultural background, as a client and project owner you should make an effort to get to know the people you work with. Those efforts will be met well and highly reciprocated by any well-managed nearshore and global outsourcing company.
Getting to know the common customs and traditions of both the clients and the dedicated software team is mutually beneficial. It can help both parties shine a light on what needs to be the focus to keep the team focused on the right goals.
2. Ensure effective communication
Staying "on the same page" requires all involved parties to have a keen awareness of what they need to be doing in addition to the methods that will be used and the approach. Dedicating the project road map falls under the product owner and the project manager's responsibilities, this also needs to be communicated to all of the people who are working on the project.
Receiving clear direction and open channels of communication are crucial to the project's execution. The developers need to be able to ask for direction whenever they specifically need it. They need to be aware of the chain of command and also know whom to turn to with different inquiries.
In the occasion where there is a language barrier, or where someone is not entirely sure of something, it should be allowed and encouraged to ask further to clear up any misunderstandings. The quicker the resolution, the fewer chances to end up reworking some parts of the project.
3. Facilitate integration of remote teams to local company culture
Corporate culture, as is often common, can be very cold and uninviting. When working with a remote team, however, it is especially important to help them integrate with the local team so that both teams can work effectively together despite the distance and any cultural differences.
Arrange work trips where applicable as a way to do that, in terms of facilitating face-to-face interactions and cultural exchanges for members of your software development team.
Also, presenting your local customs to the remote dedicated software team and attempting to provide the same working conditions for your entire team as much as possible helps to foster a more cohesive and effective team.
4. Align goals and expectation
Most of software development projects operate under an agile work setting because the most flexible managerial option is applied in outsourcing projects, at least to a certain degree. As such, adopting practices such as a sprint is a great way to go about project management.
Moreover, having clear goals and definitive accountability is a definite must to keep the process organized and remotely team working smoothly. So is having timeframes and evaluations that give feedback, while still in the development phase.
Doing all of this allows for more agility and making quicker and necessary changes on the spot as needed without wasting any time using inflexible work and management methods.
5. Provide adequate leadership
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin in their bestselling leadership book, "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win" rightly wrote, "There are no bad teams, only bad leadership."
Leadership is key even in software development outsourcing. There is no arguing with that. Establish a clear and transparent chain of command in your outsourced software development team, in addition to assigning the most responsible and accountable people in the positions that take charge. That is especially essential when working with remote teams.
Setting clear objectives, assigning a well-designed roadmap to the project's success needs to be both well-thought-out and also shared with all of the parties involved. When people know why they are performing the tasks they are performing; they generally perform better.
To sum up
Outsourcing and working with a remote team can pose a few challenges along the way. But as long as you choose the right team to work with and establish clear, effective structures and management, you should have no issues making the most of the opportunities.
Approach outsourcing in a way that is positive, organized and structured and you’ll get many options to take advantage of the benefits outsourcing software development gives you in the market. When you widen your scope and outsource, it can give your business a real boost.