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FOR YOUR OFFSHORE PROBLEM
As distributed projects become the norm, Agile methods can help them run smoothly.
BY JESSE FEWELL, CST, PMP
The honeymoon is over. Looking to deliver more while spending less, just about every large com- pany has engaged in distributed offshore proj- ects over the last several years. But organizations
are discovering that outsourcing carries more pain than
was promised. More project managers are suffering from
quality issues, language gaps and woefully unmet expectations. So what can we do? Here are some ways that Agile
can help you overcome some of the side effects of running
More project managers are
suffering from quality issues, lan-
guage gaps and woefully unmet
expectations. So what can we do?
THE AGILE PROJECT MANAGER
1. Stop emailing and start collaborating.
Agile project management places a strong emphasis on
collaborative colocated communication. Using written
English can sometimes mitigate language issues, but email
takes too long, and large documents can be stale the
moment they’re sent. Instead, we need to augment project
communications with modern online collaboration tools
such as Google Docs, instant messaging, discussion boards
and Skype. Some teams have always-on webcams so each
side can see what’s happening on the other.
You can’t have successful projects without some kind of
interaction. If time zones make that inconvenient, share
the pain, with each worksite taking a turn after-hours.
In short, work hard to communicate in real time. You’ll
develop stronger collaboration, which will yield greater
understanding and more innovative results.
reveal problems and opportunities earlier in the game. If
it reveals a slew of defects, the sponsor can reprioritize
debugging over adding new features. If an incremental
deliverable is built to off-target specs, the sponsor still has
the opportunity to swap some of the pending features for
the needed refinements.
3. Waste some money.
The most successful teams build an additional 1 to 2 percent into their budgets for micro investments that yield
high strategic value. One example would be sponsoring
some advanced technical training for team leads at the
offshore site. Even if you have to use your own budget,
investing in better engineering practices can dramatically
reduce the quality risk on your deliverables. Many executives may yell at you for spending “unnecessary funds”—
but US$10,000 out of a US$1 million budget is a small
price to pay for project success.
2. Get bad news early.
A mentor once told me, “Never surprise your boss.” Similarly, a good project manager wants bad news as early as possible. One of the greatest pain points for distributed projects
is unmet expectations. Sponsors can spend significant time
and money generating rigorous requirements, wait a year
to see any output and then receive a single large deliverable
that simply misses the mark. If iterative-incremental delivery is a good risk-management practice for local projects,
then it’s absolutely vital for distributed projects.
A monthly demo using a virtual meeting platform can
Projects are hard enough as it is without adding the extra
pain of coordinating teams across cultures, countries and
continents. But as global projects become more the rule
than the exception, the modern project manager needs
to be vigilant in improving communication, quality and
satisfaction. Agile can help achieve that. PM
Jesse Fewell, CST, PMP, is the managing
director for offshore Agile projects at Ripple-Rock India and founder of the PMI Agile
Community of Practice. He can be reached