How to Manage Outsourced Project

This is in  continuation of our last Article on 'How to Choose the Outsourcing Partner'. Now once you are done with selecting a possibly right outsourcing partner for your business,  next important step is to manage the outsourced project. Outsourcing the project does not mean that you  are free from the management related aspects. It only means that you need not to hire the resources on your  payroll and you can consider yourself free from long term liabilities of hired resources, and now virtually you can extend your team at any point of time without much efforts at your end. It could be a big mistake to consider yourself free from all project management aspect, and that could result in a bitter taste for outsourcing. So friends, when you outsource the project, you may need to consider it as virtual extension of your team and should continue to participate actively in management or execution. The difference will be that you can use management team of offshore partner as an extension of your management and hence can delegate some of the responsibilities. Of-course the level of involvement may vary from one scenario to other. This is one of the important point to consider. Further, here are few points which may help you to get a good result from outsourced project:

  1. Take it as Virtual Extension of your Team - Consider that offshore team as an virtual extension of your in-house team. This consideration should not only be in term of output expectations but also in term of Project and People management perspective. Biggest mistake has been found as when offshore team is just considered as paid skilled labor without right people management processes, and this is where the whole output gets affected for the team. We all knows that best results can not be achieved till the team members are not attached with their work. For this, it is you who can make the team as part of overall project team and project. If offshore team is not integrated in your team, you will definitely see the difference in the output and quality.  Here you are in  major role to manage this scenario.  
  2. Participate in planning - As discussed above,  outsourcing the project does not make you free from the management aspects and the  planning of project work. It is always good idea to participate in planning of project. Involvement may vary depending upon the size and experience of offshore team,  however involvement is always good. For example, if your team is using SCRUM, it is a good idea to play an active role in team and participate in release planning and retrospective meetings. As a Product owner, you could add a good value in these meetings. It will help team to understand the requirements directly from you without any major gap, and help you to define the priorities directly. It is quite beneficial and you will see the impact on result only after 2-3 sprints.
  3.  Use a Project Management and Collaboration Tool -  Although Project Management tools are recommended for every project execution, however its importance increased while managing the offshore distant teams. When team is working together under one roof, many points can be discussed in person and hence chances of gaps can be reduced. However when we are working across the boundaries, there might be big gaps in understanding due to less face to face interactions. Here a right tool can play a good role, where you can capture all your plan and expectations in terms of user requirements, quality and delivery requirements etc and share it with team. Team can also update the tool with their feedback and so on. This way, we can ensure to lower down the possibility of gaps in understanding, which will further improve the outcome of project. 'Redmine' is one of such good free tool, however there are many commercial options. 
  4. Have regular  meetings - A regular meeting schedule is very important to manage the offshore team. Try not to skip any meeting and leave it on offshore manager to continue with it. Purpose of these meetings is actually to fill the gap which may occur due to distance, so offshore team can not fulfill this motive. You have to be available for the meetings. Moreover, it will instill a feeling in team that they are working on a live project, where there work is important and hence is tracked well. Further regular discussions and interaction in the meetings will actually attach your Virtual team with you and with the project. So have a fix schedule for meetings, it can be daily or weekly (at least). Review the work done since last meeting, plan for next work items, assign the action items, discuss if there is any problem in proceeding forward, discuss any technical or non-technical issue and conclude the meeting a mail to whole team having the meeting notes.
  5. Make yourself available - It is important to make yourself available for team on a predictable schedule and sometime on urgent call from the team. A painful scenario for offshore team could be, team need to deliver something in next 5 days. Team is having some major doubt for the functionality of a major deliverable. Yours five minutes can solve the doubt, however you are not available. Team is going forward in dilemma, and on delivery, team come to know that they were wrong and hence that functionality needs to be written again. So either make yourself available, or appoint another point of contact in your absence. 
  6. Give personal touch to your team - Every person appreciates personalize attention and care. Every person wants emotional satisfaction. So it is important to give a personal touch to your relations with offshore team, rather than just to keep it plain, dry and professional. Consider a situation, when a manager call the offshore team, ask about work, shout for sometime, give further instruction and hang up without discussing any issue which team may be facing. And another situation, when a manager calls the team, have a general discussion with team for few minutes, then start discussing about project work, discuss the problems whether these are technical, or operational or managerial, helps team to define the solution with his knowledge, define the action point and planning for next desired outcome, and disconnect the call with a good bye note. In between, if team is sitting late, he tries to analyze the reason and appreciate the efforts. If reasons are not correct, he tries to give the suggestions to overcome these situations. If anyone was sick in team, he is inquiring for the health. I hope you can feel the difference while reading these sentences. So what do you think, where team will be more productive, of-course, where team feel more happy. Hence as we discussed above, it is important to consider the offshore team as virtual extension of your own team. If it is not, and your are not considering that group as your project team, you would not be able to connect with your team, and that may affect the attachment of team with work and project. And attachment of team with their work and project is very important from project management perspective.
  7. Incentives may work - There would be many situations when your offshore team has put efforts beyond expectation or at least to match the best of the expectations. Here don't forget to appreciate the efforts. Everyone likes appreciation, and sometime feel irritated when efforts go unrecognized. Even small incentives in form of gifts can also make unexpected bonds with team, which will eventually come back to you form of work output.
  8. Manage negative scenarios - There could be many situations when you feel that outcome is below your expectations or is not consistent. What do you do then? Is next step is to raise the concern to to account/team manager or team or you would like to identify the reasons of this unexpected result at first level yourself. There could be gaps in understanding the expectations, gaps in required skill set, any non-technical like managerial issue or some problem with any specific resource in the team. Here if you are taking interest yourself in understanding the issue, that would help you in many ways. Like, you would be able to get the right reason and probably would be able to contribute in solution. You would be able to judge the performance of team or individual team members, which can help you evaluate your engagement for specific resources. Once you find some facts about issue, you would then contact the management of offshore team with facts to handle the situation. Here good point is, that nobody can keep you in dark about the reasons and solutions, as you already have analyzed the problem. Further you should also consider that raising every small concerns immediately to higher management could be demotivating for team also, and ultimately team will get disconnected from you. If you want that offshore team work for you and your project, you should also work for them. So any issue should be raised to higher management, when it really needs their intervention. If issues are still unresolved after raising these to higher management, try your best to give another chance by analyzing the situation yourself and ask offshore team to participate in analysis. It is easy to break the partnership, however it is not easy to find another matching partner, and to fulfill the loss of efforts and money which you have invested in current relation. So putting some more time is still reasonable, till you are sure that nothing can be done to improve the situation. Always remember that finding a right partner, and then preparing that partner as per your requirement is a resource intensive process.
  9. Have a single point of contact- It is highly recommended to have a single point of contact in the team. Although you would be interacting with all the team members for discussing their individual assignments, however have a single person responsible for whole work will always benefit. That way, you can utilize that member as offshore manager, actually as virtual extension of you yourself. That would also save yours time, as on daily basis, you will be getting the concise status from that point with a brief of issues and progress. Moreover you can never be very sure about the skills of every member in team while sitting at distance. So keeping the senior person as single point of contact for assignments and tracking will help you to utilize his skills to choose the right person for right job, and to track their progress. On other hand, if you will try to manage everybody yourself, you may end up in situation, where you will be struggling to understand different personalities and way of working that also from a distance, which is practically not possible. The motive of offshore will also not be fulfilled when you have to give your complete time for micromanagement. Similarly, have a single point of contact for business relations also. Having interactions at different level won't help in building the relations. Have good relations will always help you to bargain best for your benefit.   
There may be more scenarios which can come up in different situations, however above mentioned points can be a good to start with and then to analyze and find more similar points. Keep on adding such points in your notebook. Consider that some of these collected points will vary from partner to partner.In concise, remember that you can not utilize the offshore team to its best capacity, till you are not making that team your own team. And benefit is that all this is coming without any long term liability. So Enjoy Outsourcing!!

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