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Marrying internal and outsourced teams: Secrets of a productive partnership

June 4, 2013 1 Comment

As an increasingly foundational part of today’s IT landscape, outsourcing offers benefits from cost savings to accelerated production to technical expertise. Yet we’ve all heard the outsourcing horror stories. The teams don’t mesh, there are power struggles, and lots of finger pointing. All of which leads to lost productivity.

Many of these outsourcing nightmares could have been prevented with some foresight and best practices. Potentially rewarding partnerships go off course for a variety of reasons. But one of the strongest culprits is a lack of research and planning before the outsourced team is even hired.

Instead of realizing that operations must be coordinated to ensure a smooth experience, organizations often view the outsourced team as a “black box” – a resource which will receive the project and later deliver the work back to the client in flawless condition.

By avoiding this critical mistake at the beginning of the partnership, businesses can build a smart and profitable foundation with their outsourced teams.

Positioning teams for partnership success

So how do you best capitalize on the collaboration once the teams are in place? Following the below best practices will go a long way toward a smooth and efficient project lifecycle.

Every role in the development life cycle is important, so make sure everyone understands and respects each other’s responsibilities, and that means drawing lines in the sand. For example, there may be both an internal and external project manager. It’s critical to define which manager oversees which parts of the project. And don’t just do this exercise once, revisit it with every new project that comes up.

Since services are created in real time it is vital that the leadership responsibility is clarified. We have had customers who use command and control models and integrate with our Agile model. This is doable, but requires specific responsibility clarification up front. Otherwise there is a likely duplication of responsibility and at the leadership level this adds a lot of stress and inefficiency.

As part of the commitment to good communication, each team should train the other on processes and language. For instance, if one team uses Agile and the other uses Waterfall, it’s critical to spend some time upfront training each other on the methodologies and vernacular so the teams can communicate clearly with each other. Teams used to operating in the Waterfall mode might be surprised by the need for frequent feedback in Agile, so they may need to adjust to a different communication style. A focus on good communication also helps mitigate any misunderstanding do to cultural differences; though having teams that are culturally relevant can improve ramp up times and reduce misunderstandings.

Methodical synchronization

Your next step is to synchronize the communication rhythm and the release cycle rhythm. In other words, make sure you’re all operating on the same system – and make sure the teams go beyond Skype and email for collaboration. Incorporate system tools like Jira, Rally or AxoSoft. Keep in mind that there are many versions of Agile methods. Picking the correct method can make all of the difference in the results from your outsourced relationship. We often use Kanban if we are integrating with a customer who follows Waterfall and Agile methodologies are being combined – but if both are Agile, we typically opt for Scrum.

Finally, always try to be as proactive as possible. Make sure the project goals are defined and articulated for both teams, then revisit them every sprint iteration to make sure the team efforts are in sync. Consider also the effectiveness of the interpersonal team dynamics. Is everyone working well together? What changes might boost productivity or help educate team members?

When leaders clash: managing conflict

While traditional company projects will have a project manager, Agile teams have a Scrum master, with the team managing itself. Sometimes this can lead to a dynamic where the project managers don’t allow the Agile teams to self-manage in a productive way. It can also lead to doubling up, with an internal project manager working alongside a Scrum master.  As a result, the team might get one set of directions from the project manager, and another set from their Scrum master, causing confusion and hindering productivity.

The solution: engaging as if you’re all part of the same company and eliminating double roles. One team leader must be selected to avoid conflict between the two teams – so be prepared for this and let your team know the plan. I’m sure we’ve all experienced situations where certain team leaders try to assert their authority as part of their daily roles. However, when it comes to working with an internal and external development team concurrently, they must honor the self-managing structure, as well as the other team, for the process to succeed.

One team, mutual success

Ideally both teams should function and feel like one team. That sense of unity should extend to hiring the outsourced team; adopt a team-building mindset and hire as if you’re hiring more developers for your internal team. Not only will you lay the groundwork for a high-performing partnership, you’ll assemble the right talent to deliver the best product possible.

cliff Marrying internal and outsourced teams: Secrets of a productive partnership

Cliff Schertz is the CEO of Tiempo Development a nearshore software development company that focuses on cloud enterprise software.  Cliff is a recognized leader in Agile methodology for both engineering and corporate strategy. Cliff works with universities in the US and Mexico along with the government of Mexico to create a regional strength in software engineering. His work has brought many professional jobs to the border region of the US and Mexico.

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One Comments to “Marrying internal and outsourced teams: Secrets of a productive partnership”
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