Its 1 am! Do you know what your offshore team is doing?
Effectively managing globally distributed technology teams is challenging and even though the world might be flat, it still has different time zones and you are expected to be awake in most of them! You didn't really sign up for this, did you? This whole globally distributed team concept just crept up on you and suddenly, you find yourself in this mode to make concepts like "24x7", "follow-the-sun" and "distributed agile" a reality. Seriously, when was the last time you got to watch Jon Stewart or David Lettermen?
I personally know many such managers who do this on a daily basis, working diligently with their remote teams in India, China, Ukraine, Romania, Philippines etc. When it gets too much, they pack their bags and take a cramped 30-hour journey to be there with them; and they do this multiple times a year!
What is going on?
We at Zephyr decided to analyze this problem by first looking at actual activities that take place between team members that are globally distributed. We monitored meetings, looked at the back-n-forth communication, and analyzed data that was being sent around. We found some very interesting things:
* A majority of the "managing the remote team" happened on conference calls and via emails that were cc:ed to the entire team
* On daily conference calls, the entire remote team usually attended whether they were active participants or not (usually not, as most were too junior or timid to speak up)
* Almost 15 minutes were lost on every call waiting for participants to show up or dial into the bridge with repeated reminders to mute as background noise was annoying
* While some important activities did get accomplished, daily conference calls largely focused on assigning tasks and getting verbal status (sometimes individually and painfully from every team member)
* Remote team leads spent an hour everyday preparing for this daily call
* Tasks and assignments were usually shared via an Excel spreadsheet and Bugzilla/JIRA/defect reports were painfully walked through
* Next morning, the same call was repeated albeit for a shorter duration and with less attendees with the goal to get a status update on what transpired during the night and to check if anything was done incorrectly or lost in translation
We were amazed at how inefficient this whole process was and how much productivity was being lost on a daily basis. While communication technology has matured remarkably and costs have drastically reduced on that front, very little attention, if any, has been paid to the cost of managing remote teams in this fashion. For the simple day-to-day tasks of assigning work, providing status updates and exchanging data, globally distributed teams haven't progressed much in the last decade.
How do you fix this?
Fundamentally, globally distributed teams have to get out of the mode of managing their interactions manually. This means automating as many of these tasks as possible and implementing newer technology which enables that. It means storing all project information in a centralized location that allows team members to access the same data irrespective of where they are physically located. It means really leveraging cloud technologies, not just talking about it. It means using push-based updates and notifications in the enterprise software world like they are used to on their personal devices. It means providing real-time status updates that require no human intervention. It involves smarter server and cloud technology, fast and consistent access, real-time integrations and live dashboards.
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