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How to manage your offshore R&D team: Ukrainian practice

08 June 2019

 

Managing a software development team is never without challenges, yet when you run an R&D office abroad the problems dramatically escalate. Nevertheless, leading tech companies from Europe and the U.S. like People.ai, BigCommerce, Grammarly, Tonic Health, Certent, and Wargaming continue to successfully set up their R&D centers in offshore locations. This article will show you the best practices of remote R&D team management in Ukraine, focusing on four main principles:

 

1. Motivation
2. Unification
3. Automatization
4. Dedication

 

Motivation

 

Motivation equates to enthusiasm and the desire to work. First of all, you need a true “leader” to drive the team. This person will also perform the role of 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. 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 qualified team 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. This underlines the significance of the position once again.

In spite of this, your presence in the life of the R&D team should be evident – become a motivator for them and keep in touch with your team as often as possible via online chats, Skype calls, etc. 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. 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.

 

 

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 remote management. He first states that Ukrainian R&D teams 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).

 

Unification

 

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 teams). 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, – this also concerns the common group chat for all company employees.

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 sales, marketing and other colleagues to Ukraine to meet the newcomers. Indeed, on-site meetings on a regular basis sustain smooth communication in the long run.

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 fairly good command of English, so don’t resort to “baby talk” either.

 

Automatization

 

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 working with an offshore development team. Just keep them simple and strive for clarity.

 

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, 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!

 

Conclusions

 

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, put these 4 principles (motivation, unification, automatization, dedication) into practice and get rid of many unforeseen troubles. Just keep in mind that under the right conditions, remote developers are as qualified and dedicated as your in-office employees. This is your key to ultimate success!

 

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