One cultural issue I encountered was a tendency for the project manager in India to agree with a statement made, but upon delivery you find out that he misunderstood your meaning, yet hesitated to ask because of -- for lack of a better term -- politeness. Granted, this could happen in any culture, but a recent CIO Magazine survey found 51% of CIOs felt that cultural differences were the greatest challenge they faced in offshoring. Must be something to it.
To avoid communication gaps like this, Mura recommends being extremely disciplined about documentation. "You must reinforce your intentions with documentation so intrinsic meaning is not lost," says Mura.
I agree that documenting every conversation with a follow-up email, while tedious, will help prevent misunderstandings. The fact that English is usually not the native tongue only exacerbates the situation, so be sure to encourage everyone on the team (yourself included) to speak up when confused, emphasizing that two-way confirmed communication is essential to the project's success.
Pay for Productivity, Not Training
One of the other problems encountered by Mura was high turnover on the team in India.
"With the strong IT job market in India we found that our team had major turnover, which impacted the cost and quality of the project," says Mura. "If I had to do it again, I would make sure we wouldn't have to pay for the learning curve of a new resource. It also doesn't hurt to ask them how they retain employees and what their turnover rate is."
If you do plan on committing to a long-term partnership, then trips to the offshore location would be wise. Just be sure to build sufficient travel costs into your budget. These trips will provide opportunities to review their facilities, see first-hand how their team operates and establish more personal relationships.
Mura thinks it is critical to make the extra effort to strengthen the interpersonal relationships of the team.
"Key management team members went to India and treated the team to a great dinner and gave them small gifts. We also started each weekly conference call with a chance for all team members to share personal life events, like engagements, births, etc.," says Mura. "Finally, we encouraged each U.S.-based project manager to get to know their Indian counterpart on a personal level. This really helped solidify a cross-cultural team with some common bonds."
If you really don't want to deal with these issues, but still want to realize offshoring benefits, then consider using a state-side firm that has extensive experience with offshoring. They can help you select an offshore partner and then manage the project from start to finish, basically providing a buffer for the cultural and other challenges for your team. This approach may eat into your initial cost savings, but it will improve your chances for long term success.
If you follow these simple guidelines, the sound you hear won't be "poof," but more like the pop of a champagne cork to celebrate a successful, cost-effective project.