Posts Tagged ‘distributed development’


Business expertise versus technical skills!

Comments (4)

In talking with a group of product managers recently about working with distributed software development teams, where part of the team was in the US and part of the team was in an offshore location, there seemed to be a big consensus that one of the most difficult issues in working with the offshore team was getting them to understand the “business side” of the system.  For example one person was very vocal about the issues with the developers in the offshore location not always understanding why the payment system needed to work in a particular way, or why the users needed to work in a certain way.  Other examples came up with billing systems and with the developers not understanding why sales commission had to be calculated in a certain way. This got me to thinking as to why this could be occurring?

According to the group of product managers the reason was specifically based on the fact that we are exposed to “how certain things” work more often in the US than in some of the offshore locations.  I agree this can be a factor with understand such things as “calculating sales commission”. Well at least the basics of calculating sales commissions, because as many people know there are many many ways to calculate sales commissions. It can greatly vary by company. So any developer would need to know what is the algorithm/s used by the company. 

After thinking about this question for a while, I started to think about how many companies search for outsourcing partners. A top priority for many companies is technical skills, which of course are very important when choosing who to work with. But I think sometimes technical skills are given a higher priority than if the outsourcing partner has related business or experience with your vertical market.  For example if your company is in the payments space, working with an outsourcing partner which has experience in that space will go a long way towards helping to overcome issues with understanding how the system has to work. Many companies when they start to look for a partner, are thinking, well we have the domain expertise, we are the experts, which is definitely true, and we can help pass that expertise on to anyone that we work with.  What we don’t have is enough technical skills.  If a company makes a concerted effort to pass on the needed domain expertise then the combination of your side having the domain expertise and the vendor having the technical skills, can work. However, in a distributed environment, passing on the domain expertise will take more effort, and it is easy for it to fall by the way side. It seems to make sense then to give, if not equal weight to both business domain expertise and technical expertise, then at least put business domain expertise in a close second place, when choosing a partner to work with your firm on software development.

Categories: Outsourcing Offshore, Outsourcing SMB's, Outsourcing Ukraine, Project Management, Virtual Teams |


Here goes a review practically longer than the book!

Comments (0)

On one hand there are certain expectations when picking up a pocket book on any subject. I expect some quick tips, checklists, something that I can quickly peruse and refer back to easily. I picked this one up since it was published in 2010 and published by Harvard Business School Publishing. 

My first impression was not good!  Why does a small pocket book, which by definition does not have a lot of room for details, have to go in to “what is a virtual team and why they are becoming more prevalent…….”.  Even if you have never led a virtual team, doesn’t everyone know this by now……   I did pick up a new term though in this section, ”same-place team”. The definition is obvious from the words, i.e. a team where all members are in the same location but I was under the impression that the more common term to use for this is co-located team (A quick scan of google I think corroborates this impression. Googling “same-place team” I get no results, versus the pages of results I received when I google’d “co-located team”.  But not a key point, it is understood.)

After the “Why Virtual Teams” chapter the book does become more helpful. The section on steps for communicating with virtual teams includes “planned spontaneity”.   Agreeing regular times to talk, and everyone knows we will be on the phone or online at such and such a time. Also open for chatting online times which can substitute for the “gathering around the water cooler scenarios”.  Also it includes key items such as agreeing, do you expect someone to respond to an email that you send on a weekend? 

Another important key scenario the book did address is when some workers are co-located and some are virtual, which is a very common situation.  Or even multiple co-located members and multiple virtual members. Sometimes it is easier to manage a virtual team when all team members are virtual than when there are multiple co-located members. It is easier for team members to care about their other co-located members than to worry about the team members located elsewhere.  The individual remote members will be more interested to know what is going on in the different locations because they are usually working “alone”, whereas the ones who are working with a team of two or more in their location, they will tend to be less active in worrying about who is in the other locations.  For these situations the book makes suggestions of how to ease the “isolation” or remote members and get the co-located members involved in helping with those situations. 

Other points I like about the book; I do like the “scenarios” which involve asking the reader what they would do in a particular situation (very realistic situations) and the mentors (authors) provide answers in the form of “what you could do”.  I also like the “Test Yourself” chapter at the end of the book under Tips and Tools.  It is better than most of these “tests”, the scenarios are more details. 

Now on to what I do not like about this book. Again and again I see this in virtual team books, the suggestion that the first meeting with a team, if at all possible should be face to face.  But rarely, if ever, have I seen suggestions of how to do the kick-off meeting if you and your team are in the more common situation of, we can’t do a face to face kick-off meeting, but we still have to start the project somehow.  Where are those suggestions? In this day and age most of what can be done face-to-face can be replicated with online tools. It may take more online meetings to replicate the face-to-face, but it can still be done.  Additionally the Tips and Tools section includes a section of “document layouts” to use for contact information, setting up a virtual team, identifying roles and responsibilities, etc.  The documents, in and of themselves, are just fine and useful, but I would think, given the fact that this was written just recently, that these would be translated now in to an online form and shown that way.  However, this may have to do with the fact that when I look at the references at the back of the book, there is only one article from 2006, most are from around the year 2000.  And the latest source for the book is 2000.  Technology and its use in virtual teams is not a strong suit for this book.  Hence the book was “compiled” recently, but based mostly on old sources.

The idea of a pocket book is one that you can quickly refer to for helpful hints or lists, etc.  (Well besides being one that you carry around in your pocket!!)  Is this, that kind of a book?  No not really. It is a good quick read if you are new to virtual teams.  The scenarios are helpful, the “test” of your knowledge of virtual teams is good, but could you refer to this book again and again.  I think not.  You are better off to make use of the “Quick Guide to Interaction Styles and Working Remotely: Strategies for Leading and Working in Virtual Teams” –

“Leading Virtual Teams – Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges”
2010 Harvard Business School Publishing

Categories: Book Review, Outsourcing Offshore, Outsourcing SMB's, Outsourcing Ukraine, Project Management, Virtual Teams |