Right from the start, it is fundamental to agree on a framework of shared responsibility, shared ownership, and accountability that will have a clear definition of who is responsible for what. From here, processes can start to be designed that will have to consider cultural differences (which will have to be identified and mutually acknowledged). A mutual buy-in related to the defined strategies will foster responsibility and ownership both in successful moments as well as in moments where something fails. In this way, success stories will be celebrated together and failures will lead to shared learning lessons and solutions. This will, in turn, create a trustful environment between the home and nearshore teams, which is key for the long-term success of the project, opening the door for the deepening of the relationship and reinforcing the learning process of both parties. Having this framework in place will also foster a partnership beyond the service provider/client relationship to both sides becoming strategic partners of each other. Solutions will then be devised together in a collaborative way instead of using a traditional and more inefficient top-down approach.
When your plan is in place, it is crucial to choose/hire the right people to integrate the project. You will want a team that is at ease with working in a multicultural, multilingual environment where culture shocks are a possibility and adaption and learning are continual.
Communication is the most important driver of successful projects of this type. Transparent communication is a pre-requisite essential during the entire lifetime of the project, therefore, it has to be cultivated and structured communication moments have to be set up alongside more spontaneous communication channels (regular meetings vs slack, for example), with well-defined stakeholders involved in the various moments. If you do not know who you need to address when an issue arises, solutions can be deployed neither quickly nor efficiently.
As an example of my personal experience managing several Portuguese IT development nearshore teams working with a German fashion brand and their home IT team, there were differences of communication that had to be acknowledged and for which strategies had to be implemented from the start in order to align the teams with the least need for external intervention possible. The Portuguese are more spontaneous and take for granted a communication approach in which problems are talked about as soon as they appear. The German have a traditionally structured approach to communication. When we identified these differences, our strategy passed through:
- Portuguese teams – creating structured communication moments so as not to have information missing and avoid misunderstandings
- German teams – providing incentives to create direct contact channels and use them frequently in order for the communication of issues to be directly forwarded
Collaboration can only be a win-win when implemented processes are well defined as per German standards but allowing room for the improvisation and fast solutions the Portuguese teams bring to the table. Strategies of continuous improvement must be in place for mistakes to happen only once. Important as well is the commitment of both parties to a framework of feedback loops in which outcomes are assessed in order to further improve the processes and strategies defined.
Work has to be done in a collaborative manner with support from both parties’ management teams. In the relationship between home and remote teams, feelings of threat and competition may arise, therefore, it is necessary to incentivize a collaborative environment based on trust and on partnership towards the same goal.
Useful tools that make communication and collaboration easier today than at the beginning of the century include task management and project management tools (Jira, TFS, for example), communication tools (Skype, Slack) and collaboration tools (Microsoft Teams).
In my opinion, the technical challenges of a project such as this are the easiest to solve. You need only good technicians, belonging to a country possessing a quality education system, provided with training opportunities to further enhance their skills. The actual challenge is the human aspect and how to get different cultures, nationalities, ways of doing and being, all rowing towards the same goal… obviously, that’s where the fun is at!