Managing software development teams is never without challenges, yet when running an R&D office abroad the problems can dramatically escalate (if one fails to consider a range of factors). The good news is that working with a team offshore is actually quite like managing such a team inhouse. And it’s not surprising that the leading tech companies from Europe and the US, like People.ai, BigCommerce, Grammarly, Tonic Health, Certent, and Wargaming, successfully set up their R&D centers in offshore locations.
If you’re thinking about starting your own team offshore (or already have one but aren’t getting the expected results), this article will provide you with some practical advice and share great practices on managing software development offshore from leading tech companies. We’ve collected the best practices applied by world-famous companies on managing their Ukrainian teams.
Differences in Managing Onshore and Offshore Teams
As we’ve already stated, managing your offshore team is almost the same as managing yours inhouse. You must follow similar principles, yet for offshore endeavors it might require a bit more effort and time. The three significant differences among an inhouse and offshore team are:
|Onshore team||Offshore team|
|Time difference and availability|
|With your inhouse team, software developers are always available during your working hours. Therefore, they can easily solve urgent matters once such arise or promptly respond to your requests. So, you can easily call for an unexpected meeting and they will be available at a moment’s notice.||
With an offshore software development team or center, time differences come into play. You might lack instant access to developers in a distant location and will often have to wait for clarifications. Also, their participation in brainstorming and meetings must be planned for everyone to attend them.
|Belonging to a company|
|Inhouse teams easily feel a part of your company as they are always physically present in the building and can easily reach out to anyone in the office.||Considering the distance, your offshore team might lack the feeling of being part of the company. They cannot be physically present, so it requires extra effort from you to help them identify with your company.|
|In your inhouse team, most employees will be from your regular environment and will stick to the same cultural norms. This means you won’t face any serious problems in terms of communication.||When you start working with an offshore team, you will most likely notice that they may not completely share your worldview and follow specific cultural patterns. To ensure efficient cooperation between you, you must consider these cultural differences.|
From the table above, you can see that there are no huge differences between managing your inhouse and offshore team, at least that you must be afraid of and cannot handle. You can overcome most of the above differences by putting a bit more effort into building relationships with your remote team and setting transparent rules (that both you and they should follow).
Let’s explore some advice from our experts on how to build a bridge between your distant teams.
Motivate your Team
When starting a team, you not only need people who are motivated and enthusiastic, but also a true “leader” to drive them and assist in case of questions. This person will be a local team lead who will also act like a “communication channel” between you and the developers. People.ai is a San Francisco-based IT company that opened its R&D center in Ukraine several years ago. The company’s CTO Andrey Akselrod, who is accountable for R&D team management in Ukraine, advises to hire a country manager with whom you can establish trust. This person should know how to manage a software development project as they will be your right hand in the local office. Their job is to hire, motivate, and retain the right people, as well as ensure corporate culture across your teams. Andrey states that for small offshore teams (less than 5 people) it’s enough to bring your project manager or senior technical lead over to Ukraine to help set up the process.
What is more, your team lead will take control of product development and relieve you of micromanagement or other time-consuming operations. A great lead is often responsible for operational management – to maintain the office in an appropriate fashion – and in addition to this, one of the leading roles of this position is team building. So, this person will also be responsible for showing your offshore specialists that they are part of the global company.
Be Present in the Life of your Team
Though there will be a local team manager, some important advice for managing software teams is to be present. Your presence in the life of the R&D office should be evident – become a motivator for them and keep in touch as often as possible via online chats, such as Slack, HeySpace, Yammer, or Hangouts. Show them that they can easily get answers and advice. Furthermore, according to statistics over 70% of communication is non-verbal, which means that video calls are a good facilitation tool for more productive communication. For this reason, be sure to use video for status calls, online conferences, and feedback. Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, UberConference or Slack all may be used for video conferencing and visual contact with your remote team.
Don’t be afraid to “overcommunicate” – Ukrainian developers become less reserved if you stay in constant touch with them – and to evoke more enthusiasm, don’t forget to praise your team often. This technique works well even for mature experts.
Train Your Development Team
One of the most important perks for tech developers is believed to be training and opportunities for internal growth. Aleksander Radchenko, CEO at Radenia AG and an IT adviser, has extensive experience regarding the cultural aspects of managing software development teams remotely. He first states that Ukrainian IT specialists are remarkably effective if managed properly. Ukrainian software engineers are known to be quick and continuous learners, yet they sometimes lack emotional intelligence. That is why you should teach them the specific features of your tech business and give some soft skills training to boost project management. This is much appreciated in Ukraine as software developers here are really into their profession and value foreign practices.
Brian Dhatt, CTO at BigCommerce, states that while opening their own R&D office in Ukraine he was especially concerned with enhancing motivation. He suggests preparing an on-boarding plan for each team member as this helps your newcomers better understand their career prospects inside your company (and in turn motivates them to work harder).
Unify your Teams
The principle of unification says that all your teams should act as a close-knit family; yet to make it a reality you need to apply a unified approach towards all members of your company (including those distant R&D offices). It’s crucial to share your vision, corporate values, mission, and culture with all employees: include your remote R&D team into company meetings, big corporate events / parties, and strategic sessions, and this also concerns the common group chat for all company employees.
Initiate Visits and Business Trips
Many tech companies host their offshore teams at their headquarters. Don’t hesitate to invite them for induction trainings to your head office, introduce your company and key people, and conduct corporate meetings. In turn, you should also come to see the team’s local office to understand their environment. According to Andrey Akselrod, business trips mix cultures and develop “internal experience”. This is a good move towards fast onboarding, so bring your colleagues to Ukraine to meet the newcomers. Indeed, on-site meetings on a regular basis sustain smooth communication and ease managing software development in the long run.
The great news here is that you don’t have to organize a business trip to bring your developers to the headquarters. Thanks to technologies, this is much easier now. For instance, for team education, presentations or demos, you can easily use Zoom, Facebook live, or YouTube live.
Different time zones can be a real headache, so it’s advisable to decide on those time slots when you and the R&D team could communicate via Skype calls or online conferences. This solution will significantly save you time, as there will be no need for holding on the phone for long-awaited responses. As well, to be on the same wavelength with your remote development team, try to simplify your language. Give clear instructions with unsophisticated vocabulary, because odds are your offshore developers are not English native speakers. However, in Ukraine IT specialists have a good command of English, so don’t resort to “baby talk” either.
Automatize the Processes
Then, consider the software your new development team uses. It should be the same for both in-office and remote developers – in order to avoid errors within the system. If for technical reasons this is not possible, take care of the appropriate communication tools. Every decision-maker in tech realizes the importance of an online management system for good operational performance. Never hesitate to make use of such cloud-based software like Trello, Jira, Asana and others, which really automate workflow management and provide effective collaboration across teams. The value of these tools can hardly be overestimated when managing software development, especially the ones that function remotely. Just keep all the tools simple and strive for clarity.
Another important issue concerns product development methodology. Developers in some countries, for instance Asian ones, need strict rules and processes. Therefore, it’s better to use Waterfall to manage their work. They will get clear tasks and understand which ones to complete at each stage. For Eastern Europe, Agile methodologies (with the opportunity of changes within the process) work better. And while American and European tech companies also prefer Agile, they won’t have to worry about the incompatibility of methodologies once they offshore tasks to Ukraine.
Contribute to Dedication
The last but not least principle is dedication. This states that your new development team should be committed to the company they work for – and be eager to do their best for overall success. As stated by Aleksander Radchenko, this rarely occurs as a real problem in Ukraine because engineers here have a high sense of ownership and commitment. Nevertheless, the first step in nurturing commitment is trust. Relationships based on trust are always faithful and strong – therefore, say much about your company and its history, provide your team with necessary background information, and stay open. Brian Dhatt underlines the importance of showing stability and trustworthiness of your company. Demonstrate that your new R&D office is not an experiment but a full company branch with long-term prospects. It will help motivate them and bring more dedication to their work.
Next, get to know them better. You may invite your development team for lunch and ask more about their country, culture, family, or lifestyle, etc. Ukrainians love to discuss cultural differences and demonstrate their national customs! Just add more informal talks to your communication and show interest in their lives.
Finally, make your R&D team feel valuable. Don’t task them with only support or maintenance work as it might offend them. You hired these tech specialists because of their professionalism, so give them a chance to show it. By completing some real work, the remote development team will be more than happy to contribute to the company’s success. This is also a nice tip for retaining the IT stars in your company, i.e. make them feel wanted and important and you will get commitment in return!
In conclusion, you should remember that the worst idea is to treat your remote R&D team as just a “gang of techies”. If you want to gather some real IT talent, implement simple actions and get rid of many unforeseen troubles. Keep in mind that managing software development teams offshore is very similar to managing employees inhouse. Put these 4 principles (motivation, unification, automatization, dedication) into practice and get rid of those unpredictable issues. When you apply all the practices properly, remote developers are as qualified and dedicated as your in-office employees, and this is your key to ultimate success!
And in case you would like to start your own team in Ukraine or need a hand with understanding local mentality, feel free to contact us. We will be happy to assist you with opening an office in Ukraine and handling all related activities.